LISA APPIGNANESI arrived in Montreal in 1951, three years after me. She wasn't called Appignanesi then, and I wasn't called Angier. My parents were not survivors: they had made it to England just in time. Their war stories were about the Blitz, and the Pioneer Corps, and never speaking German.
In Montreal, I did not encounter (although they did) any overt anti-Semitism. Yet the destruction of six million of us was still too close for comfort. I seized the chance to flee my Jewishness eagerly. My friends were rarely Jewish, my boyfriends never; and as soon as I could, I changed my name.
Lisa Appignanesi's name then was Borenstein. Her parents were not survivors either: at least not in the main sense of that term. They had not been in a concentration camp; but they had been in Poland. They had survived the war in a much rarer, though not unique way: by passing themselves off as Aryans. Losing the Dead is their story. Or rather, it is Lisa's telling of their story, through their memories and her own. And that's what makes it so interesting. It's not just the account of a terrible, triumphant adventure but also an exploration of its costs and effects; of memory, ideology, and growing up Jewish in Quebec. The book begins with that, and it's the very best part. It brought Quebec back to me like Proust's madeleine - Esplanade Avenue, outside staircases, French kids with false teeth at 18 (from drinking Pepsi, Canada's Coke: that's why we called them pepsis, a meanness Lisa does not mention). Slowly, the Polish objects disappear, and Canadian ones take over; linen gives way to Formica, china and crystal to pottery and plastic. But the Polish past does not give way to the Canadian present. Lisa's mother Hena had saved her family from the Final Solution by lies and charm, by relying on her instinct and blonde beauty. …