A dark, distressful, and deeply felt memoir of life with father—and its aftershocks—by National Book Award–winner Nuland (How We Die, 1994, etc.).
Meyer Nudelman, a Jewish immigrant from the Pale, was, to put it mildly, a difficult man: moody with an explosive temper, an outlander in his own home, full of brittle pride. His accent and physical disabilities mortified young Sherwin, while his rages smote the boy to the soul; in one memorable explosion, Nuland (Surgery/Yale School of Medicine) sees that his father, so degraded by the miserable toil of his daily life, must in turn degrade his own son with a flurry of verbal abuse. Yet the Nudelmans’ stormy apartment also provided shelter, and Meyer’s weakness was his power. Impressively evocative of life in the Jewish East Bronx during the 1940s, the story hinges on Sherwin’s move to break away from his father’s smothering emotional grasp by attending medical school at Yale. But anguishing episodes of profound melancholia (like grotesque fogs with the “muffled mocking tones of a vengeful enemy”) roil his life so severely that Nuland is slated for a lobotomy while a clinical resident at Yale and barely escapes the knife. The subsequent revelation that his father is suffering from the fallout of untreated syphilis is not enough to erase his feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy, his fixations and the guilt, “the din and deluge of that rampaging stampede of obsessional ideations” that resulted in Nuland’s hospitalization. Lost in America probes the effect Meyer had on his life in the hope that by understanding his father Nuland might thereby understand a part of himself that has begged comprehension. The “journey” ends with a measure of balance: the author finds his own life by finding a way into and out of his father’s—and if it took 70 years to achieve, the time seems short for the amount of work involved.
Charring and eloquent.