Nothing is Forgotten (A Novel)

By Peter Golden

Atria Books | 2018

Reviewed by M. J. Moore

Peter Golden

All the Forgotten Faces

Aside from its literary integrity, narrative power, and other qualities, the title of Peter Golden’s new novel, Nothing is Forgotten, is worthy of attention.  Why?

Because recent news stories have highlighted that a significant portion of Americans think that either the Holocaust did not happen or that the number of Holocaust victims—especially Jewish victims—is far smaller than what has been documented and reported since 1945.

In other words, in the America of 2018, apparently, everything can be forgotten.

However, novelist and journalist Peter Golden has committed all of his talent as an author toward one goal: storytelling that is steeped in carefully researched history.

Yet, this is far more than what’s commonly called a “historical novel.”  Instead, this novel blend mystery, coming-of-age motifs, Cold War cultural signposts and a rich sense of yearning for family members lost in World War Two.  The alchemy of the novel is brilliantly mixed by Peter Golden, who lets details emerge in the dialogue of his characters, as well as in his narrator’s first-person ruminations and the spoken monologues of other main characters.

It all begins, innocently enough, in South Orange, New Jersey, where Chapter 1 comes to life with this clear, relaxed opening paragraph:  Narrator Michael Daniels tells us: “I was never too interested in my family’s history.  My indifference wasn’t just the apathy of a kid bored by school and obsessed with rock ‘n’ roll; it was because my father and his mother, Emma Dainov, preferred not to talk about it.”

From there, Golden’s narrator takes readers back to the halcyon postwar days of America in the late 1950s – when early rock ‘n’ roll was the new soundtrack of youth and the Second World War concluded for well over a decade.  Nonetheless, the war never ends in the traumatized minds and souls of those who survived it – and that lingering gloom, that ever-present dark shadow, dominates this unique story.

In fact, a constant oscillation from suburban innocence to grim experience gives this novel its page-turning power.   What seems to be a coming-of-age novel narrated by Michael Daniels, an archetypal Baby Boomer raised in the safe domesticity of the Eisenhower Fifties, soon transforms into a profound search for truth and taboo revelations.

The narrator’s grandmother is found murdered in the New Jersey candy shop she has presided over for years.  Setting out to discover more and more about why she might have been killed, the narrator plunges into the past, time after time, while also navigating the transition from the seemingly calm 1950s into the tumultuous 1960s.

Nothing looms larger, though, than World War Two. Thus, it is fitting that Michael Daniels, the ever-curious maverick narrator of Nothing is Forgotten, is hosting his own underground radio show at the beginning of the story – he’s broadcasting lots of early rock ‘n’ roll at a time when Fats Domino, B.B. King, and Howlin’ Wolf were all performing at their peaks, and considered dangerous.  He’s also using his radio shows as a platform to satirize the Russians (while most media at that time were trembling over Sputnik), and his open ridicule of Nikita Khrushchev is transmitted on the air all the way to avid listeners in a tiny Soviet city.

Once he makes learning the truth about his murdered grandmother’s life his own personal mission (he concludes that he has to discover the secrets of her wartime life, long before she made her way to America after the war), Michael Daniels sets out on a quest that leads to the South of France (where Picasso makes a 1965 cameo – nothing trivial, either; it’s an important plot point), as well as Munich, Paris, and eventually Soviet Russia.

There’s also a riveting, scabrous, gut-wrenching series of scenes that involve more than one of Hitler’s concentration camps.  No “spoilers” will be described here.

We live now in an era of information overload and most of what’s seen or heard on all screens (and in so much print) is intended only to distract and entertain.  The study of history is sneered at.  Peter Golden is bucking that trend.  With devotion.

Nothing is Forgotten is an unforgettable reading experience, a lamentation, and it’s also solid proof that precise historical milestones can anchor an intelligent novel.

M J. Moore is a frequent contributor to Neworld Review.)

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