The Living and the Lost

A young German Jewish woman returns to Allied Occupied Berlin from America to face the past and unexpected future.

  • Official Selection Long Island Reads 2022

Millie (Meike) Mosbach and her brother David, manage to escape to the States just before Kristallnacht, leaving their parents and little sister in Berlin. Millie attends Bryn Mawr on a special scholarship for non-Aryan German girls and graduates to a magazine job in Philadelphia. David enlists in the army and is eventually posted to the top-secret Camp Ritchie in Maryland, which trains German-speaking men for intelligence work.

Now they are both back in their former hometown, haunted by ghosts and hoping against hope to find their family. Millie, works in the office responsible for rooting out the most dedicated Nazis from publishing; she is consumed with rage at her former country and its citizens, though she is finding it more difficult to hate in proximity. David works trying to help displaced persons build new lives, while hiding his more radical nighttime activities from his sister. Like most of their German-born American colleagues, they suffer from conflicts of rage and guilt at their own good fortune, except for Millie’s boss, Major Harry Sutton, who seems much too eager to be fair to the Germans.

Living and working in bombed-out Berlin, a latter day Wild West where drunken soldiers brawl; the desperate prey on the unsuspecting; spies ply their trade; werewolves, as unrepentant Nazis were called, scheme to rise again; black markets thrive, and forbidden fraternization is rampant, Millie must come to terms with a decision she made as a girl in a moment of crisis, and with the enigmatic sometimes infuriating Major Sutton who is mysteriously understanding of her demons.

Atmospheric and page-turning, The Living and the Lost is a story of love, survival, and forgiveness of others and of self.

Other Editions

Publishing rights have been sold in Australia and the United Kingdom (as Return to Berlin), with more to come. (Jackets will be displayed as they become available.)

  • The Living and the Lost/Return to Berlin - Australian Edition
  • The Living and the Lost/Return to Berlin - UK Edition
    United Kingdom

Reviews and Praise

"Exquisite... will stay with readers long after the final page is turned." Publishers Weekly

"A deep and nuanced portrait of a complicated woman ... a dramatic saga...believable and well-documented history with a juicy reveal toward the end." The East Hampton Star

"Absolutely riveting... a powerful, hauntingly rich story of courage and survival that completely stole my heart and kept me up reading through the night... perfect for book clubs... highly, highly recommended." Edelweiss for Libraries

"Feldman has captured that period in time when the world and the lives of its survivors was in tatters. Millie finds love but much more: She finds herself. This vivid novel should be required reading for those who are wondering why we still to this day find that it is far easier to hate other people than to pause and try to understand them." Historical Novels Review

"Vivid... illuminating... with plenty of action and even some romance, evoking a lesser-known historical period—the immediate postwar era and Berlin before the wall—and the complications and compromises that come with the end of war." Book Page

"In her new novel Ellen Feldman creates an indelible portrait of post-war Berlin and of a woman who returns, under the guise of working for the American government, to search for her family. Millie is a complicated heroine who seldom acts in her own best interests yet never loses our sympathy. The Living and The Lost is a deeply satisfying and truly adult novel." Margot Livesey

"How does anyone survive after trauma? Not so easily for Feldman's German born heroine, Millie, reentering a 1945 Berlin that's still reeling from the war's wreckage even as the Nazis struggle to rise again. Not so easily in America, either, where Jewish refugees struggle with survivor's guilt and overwhelming grief. A gorgeous, shattering novel that could not be more timely about the dark damage of hatred and the persistence of love." Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow, Pictures of You, and Cruel Beautiful World

"Compelling... resonates today with disturbing themes ...a moving, unsentimental tale, which is also a love story... The scenes Feldman creates of bombed-out, black-market Berlin pulseā€¦her style is rich in description but understated in dialogue... with a sardonic, sorrowful authenticity." Joan Baum, NPR

"A beautiful, atmospheric novel that transports us to Occupied Berlin, a perfect setting in which to examine the contours of shame, as well as the harshness of simplistic assumptions and knee-jerk judgment. Through the eyes and heart of Millie, we consider the pain of turning away, of betrayal, and the price survival exacts. The crisp, smart dialogue adds to the delight." Elizabeth Church

"Postwar Berlin springs vividly to life in this engrossing, emotionally powerful novel about one woman's search for her lost family—and her own redemption—in the still smoldering ruins of a bitter, vanquished city. Millie Mosbach, returning to her childhood home of Berlin after escaping to America for the duration of the war, works in an office dedicated to stamping out the insidious resurgence of Nazism in German publishing. Put in a position to judge others, she soon learns how complicated the truth can be in a city full of shameful secrets and heartrending choices, including her own. Millie is Feldman's most complex and engaging character yet: tough, smart, and uncompromising, much like the book itself. Beautifully written, rich with detail and a brilliantly drawn cast of characters, The Living and the Lost is a culmination of Feldman's extraordinary powers as a writer with an unrivaled grasp of history and the human heart." Liza Gyllenhaal, author of Local Knowledge and Bleeding Heart

"Ellen Feldman masters the two great challenges of the historical novel in The Living and the Lost, mapping the human heart as expertly as she does another time and place. Her story of a Jewish American woman returning to the ruined, postwar Berlin she was forced to leave as a teenager sears, uplifts, and compels. A terrific read, brilliantly written." Kevin Baker

"In a world that seems to be divided into clear sides of good and evil, Feldman steers her characters into the gray areas where it is important to look beneath the surface to find the truth and to extend forgiveness to oneself as tenderly as it is offered to others." Booklist

Readers are raving

"This book is why I have bags under my eyes this morning—I started it and stayed up late to finish it and kept hubby up talking about it. This book is searingly excellent and a definite read for historical fiction fans, book clubs and general readers. The characters are well fleshed out, the plot enjoyable (despite the atrocities of war) and I will recommend this book to patrons, friends, book clubs and complete strangers on mass transit. Read. This. Book." Janet, Librarian

"The Living and the Lost is a powerful, unsettling read. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, especially books set during WW2. This is one of the few books that I've read set just after the war ended. The descriptions are so real that I felt transported to post war Berlin. I liked the way the author alternated back in time to tell Millie's back story. This would make a great literature tie-in for a high school world history class, sparking lively class discussions." Judy, Educator

"I have read many books centered around the Holocaust and World War II but this was something different. This story is told from the perspective of a young woman who had the chance to leave Germany and return at a later date. Seeing the devastating aftermath of the Holocaust through the eyes of a Jewish woman was an eye-opener and made me wonder how those who returned to Germany in the aftermath of World War II felt about going home." Mary, Consumer Reviewer

"This book was truly heart breaking. I cannot imagine myself in any of the characters positions, especially Millie or Anna. I get where Millie and David both are coming from, but really what choice did they have. Some sacrifices had to be made during this time in history. I don't want to give anything away so sorry this is a short review, but readers really just need to pick up this book!!" Jennifer, Consumer Reviewer

"Millie and brother David manage to escape Berlin just as the Nazis begin their brutal assault on Jews. They both go on to have successful lives in the United States, with Millie winning a scholarship to Bryn Mawr and then landing a job at a magazine in Philadelphia. David enlists in the army is eventually transferred to a classified intelligence unit. Despite their success, Millie and David feel sorrow, regret and even shame at leaving their parents and little sister behind in Berlin. After the war they both return to Berlin, Millie working at tracking down Nazis and their sympathizers, David trying to help the residents of the war torn city find new places to live. Driven by terrible grief and righteous anger, brother and sister must come to terms with their past in order to move on. What a story, it is so vividly told, I felt like I was there with the protagonists in post war Berlin, I could feel their anger and pain as if it were my own. This is a powerful, incredible story." Rosemary, Librarian