Monday, May 19, 2014
Lost in America: A Journey with My Father by Sherwin B. Nuland 2003
from a review by Bruce Fellman in the March 2003 Yale Alumni Magazine
Sherwin Nuland (1930- 2014) was a highly respected surgeon and writer – his 1995 book, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, won the National Book Award. When he finally turned to writing this engaging memoir his aim was to examine his upbringing in the Bronx as the son of Jewish immigrants. He especially wanted to explore his debilitating relationship with his father.
Sherwin Nuland’s parents were both born in Europe. In the Bronx they and their two sons lived in a four room apartment along with the author’s maternal grandmother and his mother’s unmarried sister, Rose. If six people living in such close quarters wasn’t trying enough, adding to the tension were negative feelings his grandmother and Rose had toward Nuland’s father and the negative feelings he had for them. Nuland’s father had an explosive temper which cast a pall over the entire family. Nuland remembers his mother trying to negotiate between the two warring sides, trying to hold the family together.
Throughout the years they had to cope with more than their share of illness and death. Nuland himself had a serious bout of diphtheria, and his mother died of colon cancer when the author was eleven. His father became more and more debilitated with a shuffling gate and stooped posture, and had such difficulty moving his limbs that he became increasingly dependent on his sons, especially his dutiful but resentful younger son Shepsel. (Sherwin’s Yiddish name.)
In this memoir the author examines and tries to come to terms with the difficult circumstances of his gloom-filled childhood. A bright and ambitious student, Nuland notes how he was embarrassed by his father’s shtetl roots, his having never learned to write English, his heavily accented English - partly gibberish of his own invention, and his physical disabilities. His father barely made a living and the family relied on money Rose brought in as well as handouts from wealthier relatives.
As he grows older he observes the often large gulf between life in his Yiddish-speaking religiously-observant home and the kind of lives he is exposed to in the home of his friends and at college. Increasingly torn between his family’s needs and the wider world that beckons, the author tries to distance himself from his roots and to position himself for a successful life in America. He and his brother change their last name from Nudelman to Nuland and the author chooses to attend Yale Medical School instead of staying in New York and going to medical school locally.
Age often begets wisdom. Nuland looks back at his father’s life with more understanding, if not forgiveness. He has painted a detailed and rich portrait of one Jewish immigrant family’s life in New York, both before and after World War II. Their story touches on many of the circumstances that confronted other immigrant parents who could not find their way in America but who were willing to sacrifice so that their children could have a measure of success in the new world.
To read an article about the quota of Jewish students admitted and Jewish teachers hired at medical schools, click here.
To watch a video of Sherwin Nuland discussing Lost in America click here.
Vitsche (Violet) Lutsky – daughter of Peshe; married Meyer Nudelman (original family name- Weinberg)
Maishe Nudelman – son of Vitsche and Meyer
Harvey Nudelman – son of Vitsche and Meyer
Sherwin B. Nuland (Nudelman) – son of Vitsche and Meyer; second marriage to Sarah
Drew Nuland – son of Sherwin
Toria Nuland – daughter of Sherwin
Will Nuland – son of Sherwin and Sarah
Molly Nuland – daughter of Sherwin and Sarah
Rose Lutsky – daughter of Peshe
Beattie Lutsky – daughter of Peshe; married Emmanuel Ritter
Arline Ritter – daughter of Beattie and Emmanuel
Sam (Shmuel Chaim) Simenowitz – nephew of Peshe
Noach Nudelman – father of Meyer (see above)
Meyer Nudelman – son of Noach; married Vitsche Lutsky (see above)
Avram Nudelman – son of Noach
Shoil Nudelman – brother of Noach
Willie (Nuland) Nudelman – son of Shoil
Friends and Acquaintances
Yosel Asherovsky (Joe Astrove) – married Fanny
Betty Astrove – daughter of Joe and Fanny
George Astrove – son of Joe and Fanny
Ralph Astrove – brother of Joe
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Camp Boiberik, New York