Lost in America

An eminent professor of surgery at Yale University, Sherwin Nuland has written award-winning books—How We Die (1994), The Wisdom of the Body (1997), and The Mysteries Within (2000)—that combine medical knowledge, historical anecdotes, and philosophical insight. Although these earlier books often referred to his personal and professional life, they made only a few passing references to his father, Meyer Nudelman, the focus of this fascinating and emotional memoir.

Lost in America: A Journey with My Father illustrates the fact that many immigrants have not found the United States to have streets paved with gold. Nudelman, an old-style shtetl Jew working in the garment industry, was barely able to provide his family with the basic necessities. During the frequent slack times, the family had to rely on small unemployment checks. Making matters worse, Nudelman suffered from an increasingly debilitating illness, which Nuland eventually learned was tertiary-stage syphilis.

While growing up, Nuland deeply resented his father’s explosive temper and was tremendously embarrassed by his peasant-like appearance and limited ability to communicate in English. One of the main reasons that Nuland changed his last name was to establish an identity separate from that of Meyer Nudelman. Yet, the Nudelman household provided a stable refuge, and clearly there were symbiotic, affectionate aspects to this complex father-son relationship, especially after Nuland became a successful surgeon.

In addition to telling about his father, Nuland reveals a great deal of personal information about his own life. Most notably, he tells about his severe episode of clinical depression that required electroshock therapy and almost resulted in lobotomy. Nuland further describes the painful deaths of his beloved mother and aunt, and recounts some of his experiences as a medical student and internist. He also gives readers rather intimate descriptions of his early sexual encounters, while making only a few references to his two marriages.

Nuland’s memoir includes interesting observations and anecdotes about the culture of Yiddish speaking Jews of New York during and after World War II. Anyone interested in the history of immigrants in America—especially Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe—should definitely read this book.

Review Sources

Booklist 99, no. 6 (November 15, 2002): 546.

Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 21 (November 1, 2002): 1597.

Library Journal 127, no. 20 (December 1, 2002): 141-142.

The New Leader 85, no. 6 (November/December, 2002): 15-16.

The New York Times, March 25, 2003, p. E10.

The New York Times Book Review, February 9, 2003, p. 10.

Publishers Weekly 249, no. 50 (December 16, 2002): 59-60.

U.S. News & World Report 161 (February 10, 2003): 12.