In 1950s New Jersey, teacher Michael Daniels—or Misha Danielov to his doting Russian-Jewish grandmother—is at loose ends, until he becomes the host of a nightly underground radio show. Not only does the show become a local hit because of his running satires of USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev, but half a world away, it picks up listeners in a small Soviet city.
There, with rock and roll leaking in through bootlegged airwaves, Yulianna Kosoy—a war orphan in her mid-twenties—is sneaking American goods into the country with her boss, Der Schmuggler.
But just as Michael’s radio show is taking off, his grandmother is murdered. Why would anyone commit such an atrocity against such a warm, affable woman? She had always been secretive about her past and, as Michael discovers, guarded a shadowy ancestral history. In order to solve the mystery of who killed her, Michael sets out for Europe to learn where he—and his grandmother—really came from.
“Both heartbreaking and mesmerizing, Nothing Is Forgotten is the sort of book you won’t soon forget…Cold War Europe, lingering Nazi secrets, and the tragic history faced by millions of families not only bring this tale to life but will keep you turning the pages” (Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author) and will appeal to fans of novels by Anita Diamant and Kristin Hannah.
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Nothing Is Forgotten
South Orange, New Jersey
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.
“Misha, ne sprashivay,” my grandmother would reply in Russian on those rare occasions I prodded her with a question. Don’t ask.
Still, some of the history was unavoidable because we seemed different from the other families in South Orange and Maplewood, a pair of suburban Edens with houses in every style from redbrick Federals to flat-roofed split-levels that resembled spaceships. Our neighbors were hardworking Jews, Italians, and Irish, along with some black families to prove no bigots breathed among us, and at the top of the food chain, a papery-skinned layer of Wasps whose chief purpose, as they perused the financial pages in the gin-soaked ambience of their restricted country club, was to provide some incentive for their social-climbing inferiors.
As a boy, I learned that Daniels wasn’t our original name while I was digging through a trunk in the basement and found my father’s passport from the Soviet Union, with its faded green cover and strange lettering. I was holding the passport when my father, a wan, asthmatic beanpole with a Brylcreem-resistant cowlick, came down with a laundry basket, a chore he had handled ever since my mother refused to separate his lights and darks.
“You the detective now?” he asked in his slightly accented English, peering at me through his pince-nez.
I shook my head, and he smiled a little sadly—the Russian smile, my grandmother called it, like a weak sun in a winter-gray sky. Then he said that in 1934, at the age of eleven, he had landed at Ellis Island with his father, whose imagination was aflame with Yankee-Doodle dreams of striking it rich, which was why he Americanized their surname from Dainov to Daniels, and my father’s first name from Lev to Lawrence. My grandfather died before I was born, leaving Larry Daniels to run his empire—Sweets, a candy store on Irvington Avenue, a five-minute walk from our modest Colonial in South Orange.
The name change was odd enough, but what perplexed me was why he had emigrated to the United States without his mother. My father squeezed the rubber bulb of his nebulizer and cleared his airways by drawing on the mouthpiece before he wheezed, “My parents had a divorce, and my father, he took me away.”
Divorce wasn’t fashionable in those days, so my grandparents splitting up was further evidence of our family’s difference, but it—and the mutation of Dainov into Daniels—might have remained a minor puzzle had I not been the baffled owner of four first names. On my birth certificate, I was Michael, and that was the name my mother and teachers used. My father called me Mikhail, and to my grandmother I was Misha, short for Mikhail, or Mishka, an affectionate form of Misha. This left me with a touch of multiple personality disorder and was a point of contention between my parents.
My father’s English was excellent, though out of some nostalgia for his boyhood, perhaps, and undoubtedly to irritate my mother, he often spoke to me in his native language. I didn’t mind. It was cool using words none of my friends understood, and I needed Russian to understand my grandmother. She insisted that I answer her in English, because my father was completing his degree in accounting at Seton Hall University—a few blocks up Ward Place from Sweets—and he wanted his mother to take over the business after he passed his CPA exam and opened an office.
My mother, a violet-eyed beauty with a pug nose and poodle-cut hair she dyed a shimmery copper, hated that my father spoke to me in Russian. She was born in New Jersey and lorded it over her husband, as though hailing from the Jewish ghetto of Paterson, with parents who worked themselves to death in that city’s silk mills, qualified her to be next in line for the British crown, a view of herself fortified by the fact that after high school she had masqueraded as an Episcopalian to work as a secretary at a law firm in Manhattan that didn’t hire Jews.
My father, needling his wife about her pretensions, frequently referred to her as “Queen Shirley the First.” Nor did he stop conversing with me in Russian even after the blowup at Clinton School with my fourth-grade teacher. Miss Smethers was an elderly taskmaster whose dark dresses gave off a whiff of mothballs and who would order you to stand by her desk and face the class if she caught you smiling. On this morning, she was writing multiplication problems on the blackboard while in my head Big Mama Thornton was singing “Hound Dog,” a bluesy wail that I—and the deejay Jocko Henderson, the self-proclaimed Ace from Outer Space—couldn’t get enough of. I was sketching Big Mama’s face on my math homework—the big grinning face with the devilish eyes I remembered from an album cover in Village Records—when suddenly students were turning to gawk at me, and Miss Smethers said, “Michael, we’re waiting for your answer.”
You couldn’t admit that you weren’t paying attention, not if you wanted to avoid standing in the place of shame. Without thinking, I replied, “Ya ne znayu.”
The class broke up as if I’d cut the world’s loudest fart instead of saying that I didn’t know. Miss Smethers, believing I’d cursed her out, marched me to Principal Furrie’s office and, before returning to the classroom, suggested he wash out my mouth with soap. The principal was a jolly rotund fellow who combed his hair east and west to hide his baldness. I explained that I’d spoken Russian by accident. He nodded sympathetically, then phoned my mother. For the last week she’d been going on about a sale at Bamberger’s—arguing with my father about her spending limit—and I hoped she wasn’t home. No such luck—she stormed into the principal’s office, eyes blazing. Mr. Furrie told her what happened and asked if I’d ever been dropped on my head as a baby, which could account for my confusing two languages.
“My husband’s a schmuck,” my mother said. “That’s why he’s confused.”
Grabbing my shirt collar, she dragged me through the school yard to her Country Squire and drove to Sweets, where my father was arranging packs of cigarettes in the honeycomb behind the cash register.
After telling him why I wasn’t in school, my mother said, “I told you to stop with the Russian. Everyone’ll think Michael’s a commie spy.”
This was the 1950s. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg had been sentenced to die in the electric chair for selling atomic secrets to the Soviets; Senator Joseph McCarthy had accused everyone except President Eisenhower’s parakeet of spying for Moscow; and Hollywood was blacklisting directors, actors, and screenwriters if they’d ever taken a sip of vodka.
“Calm down, Shirley. You’ll have stroke.”
Her voice rose. “They’ll blacklist our son.”
I piped up. “Will I get to miss school?”
My mother whipped off her shoe and, with the spiked heel, swatted my backside. A geyser of pain shot up my spine. She wasn’t shy about hitting me, but I refused to cry; she might enjoy it. The enraged stoic—that was me.
Glaring at my father, she said, “This is your fault,” and then she was off to Bamberger’s.
I looked at my father. He shrugged helplessly. “Mikhail, you shouldn’t use Russian with your teacher.”
And you, I recall thinking, shouldn’t let your wife smack your son with a spiked heel.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Could not put down, brought back many memories and demonstrated my own ignorance! Have read many other books about these events, but this story made it much more real.
enjoyed going again to some of the places we'ved traveled to, especially New Jersey where we are from.
You know how sometimes you come across a book that’s within your wheelhouse of preferred genres and sounds like it could be interesting, so you pick it up with a mild caution in the back of your mind because even though it sounds interesting, it’s still a bit “may or may not be for me”? That was this book for me. I was mostly curious and mildly cautious. And then I started reading it and found myself so completely immersed in the storyline that I completely lost track of time. I binged the first half of the book in one sitting. Hashtag no regrets. I was drawn to this book because the storyline covers a mix of WWII and Russia, both of which are topics I’m very interested in. I read WWII fiction on a regular basis, and Russia is an enigma that I’m constantly trying to wrap my head around. Nothing Is Forgotten fueled both of those fires. It started with that nostalgic flare that comes with reading a book set in America in the 1950s, a story that reminds me what life was like for my grandparents when they were young adults, and quickly ratcheted to a level of adventure and suspense that had my mind spinning as I tried to connect all of the dots. I mean, it had the CIA, the KGB, people dying but maybe not really, and mysterious back stories. It was a thriller wrapped in a historical coming-of-age story, with a side of romance and lots of emotional family ties. There’s a quote from author Sarah McCoy on the back cover that sums it up perfectly: “. . . a Russian nesting doll of plot twists across continents and decades.” And surprise, surprise, I need to mention the characters. There were so many distinct personalities in this book. Everyone was very bold, with strong opinions and an unwillingness to back down from their beliefs. I appreciated that. It worked very well with the setting and time period. Had it been the other way, characters who were meek and just going with the flow, it would’ve ruined the story for me. There are so many big looming external forces working together and against one another in this story (for example, the CIA and the KGB), that it needed, or at least I needed, strong characters to push back against those powers. It was a great balance for my reading preferences. So as it turns out, my words are a lot less eloquent than I thought they’d be. I’m once again reviewing a book with the blubbering, rambling enthusiasm of someone who cannot be calm about it. But hey, at least you aren’t questioning whether or not I truly enjoyed it. (And really, this is my M.O., so it shouldn’t be a surprise.) Nothing Is Forgotten is a “highly recommend” for anyone looking to read a historical fiction story that ties together both the Holocaust and the Cold War. With scenes in New Jersey, Russia, and France, you won’t be bored.
Favorite Quotes: I shook my head, and he smiled a little sadly—the Russian smile, my grandmother called it, like a weak sun in a winter-gray sky. Named for Mark Twain, whose loathing of Tsarist Russia endeared him to the party, the students spent half the day immersed in the government-blessed curriculum in Russian and the other half taking courses in English, all while a portrait of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, stood guard on a wall of every classroom, glaring at the students as if accusing them of harboring the forbidden desire to own private property. “He is a real magician, my father.” “A magician? Like he pulls rabbits out of hats?” “Like he makes vodka disappear.” I had a new reaction. I imagined smashing the wine bottle over Stenka’s head. Visiting Dachau, I concluded, could make a Jew touchy. Of course, almost everyone loves dead Jews. Jesus was a Jew, no? It is the live Jews who seem to bother people. I feel like I wandered into the middle of a freakish play, and I can’t get off the stage. My Review: Peter Golden has created exceptionally compelling arrangements of words within these 353 pages. His beguiling selections of nouns, verbs, and adjectives were densely packed across two timelines and were highly intriguing, thoughtfully written, mysteriously emotive, poignantly insightful, spiritually devastating, yet highly compelling. His well-crafted storylines were lushly detailed and often held a weighty aura of melancholy, which resulted in a bruised and heavy heart, yet, oddly, I didn’t seem to mind. To deploy his own words out of reference, Mr. Golden is truly a “connoisseur of irony.” He sagely tucked in clever turns of mocking wit and deftly tossed in twists of levity with razor-sharp sarcasm, quips, and sardonic banter. His cunning use of humor felt like delightful treats and often erupted in the most expected of places. This was not an easy book to slice through given the disquieting subject matter, a large cast of unusual and disturbing characters, frequent use of foreign words and names, and unfamiliar cultural references; all of which left me ever so thankful for the translator and Wikipedia function on my tablet. However, I assure you, this masterfully penned tale was well worth the effort. I feel humbly and gratefully enlightened while having gleaned considerable and relevant knowledge in an entertaining manner. Peter Golden has mad skills and a new fan.
“Why does God write our stories in vanishing ink?” It’s a query presented by Michael Daniels’ grandmother Emma in the back of an art book he finds in her bookcase after she’s been killed in her workplace in South Orange NJ in the early 1960s. And in trying to figure out who is Grandmother actually WAS, he’s certainly not ready for the work that takes him all over the world to find out. Michael’s trying to figure this out connects him with CIA operatives, Holocaust survivors, Russian smugglers, artists, rogue assassins and Cold War Europe... and Yuli Kosoy, a young woman in Russia who is obsessed with all things American, including “Misha Daniov: The Mad Russian” his radio persona. This is the story about finding what’s missing; the things hidden in the vanishing ink. A thriller of utmost proportions, Golden takes you from South Orange New Jersey to Post War/Cold War Russian in a story that might leave you scratching your head as the puzzle pieces come together...or do they? I can’t begin to explain it without giving the plot away, but it is a book I recommend. 4/5 [disclaimer: I won this book in a contest and have chosen to review it]
I only meant to read a page or two as I waited for my boys at the bus stop to get home from school, but Peter Golden's writing sucked me in and I was officially toast! Nothing is Forgotten is one powerfully moving novel, brilliant in execution, and an emotional roller coaster. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll root for the heroes and you'll fly through the pages to see if evil will finally get their due. I absolutely loved every page! I had so many passages highlighted on my eBook because there were so many good lines. Golden is a master storyteller, equally deft with action scenes as he is with the romance aspect of the book. I fell in love with Yuli, she reminded me of a female Jason Bourne. And like in the Jason Bourne movies we are taken on an International adventure to Amsterdam, Russia, France, Germany, and back to the US. And we get to meet Picasso! There was never a dull moment and it truly has everything I look for in a novel - danger, intrigue, mystery, romance, a smart & sassy leading woman, and a believable plot and Nothing is Forgotten had them all in spades. I am so excited to have found Peter Golden and I already ordered his other books. He's that good, folks! I highly recommend you checking out this book - you can thank me later :)
NOTHING IS FORGOTTEN is currently in my top five favorite books of all time, joining A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, SHE'S COME UNDONE, GONE WITH THE WIND, and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. At times, the book is a thriller, others a mystery, and still others, a romance, but at all times, it's captivating, emotional, and incredibly well told. The story opens in Michael's childhood and reads like a memoir until his grandmother is killed, and then it takes off like a thriller wrapped in a mystery as Michael tries to figure out who killed his grandmother and why. His search for the truth takes him to Europe and Russia where he meets and falls for Yuli, a smuggler and defacto spy. Together they seek clues about the death of Emma, which only raises more questions and puts them both in danger. Plot Impeccably researched, there is as much history as there is storytelling going on between the pages. The story is expertly plotted and moves along at a steady rate. The pace picks up speed at the climax and keeps it up until the very end. And that ending...wow. For me, it's perfect. Yes, I want to know what happens next, but I don't need to know. It's such a satisfying conclusion with just the right amount of uncertainty to allow me to imagine what comes after without feeling frustrated. The Characters The characters are a masterpiece. Michael, Yuli, Der Schmuggler...they're deep, nuanced, and intriguing. Throughout the story, Emma goes from being an enigma to someone fully fleshed out as the reader learns through Micheal's research who Emma really was. The characters seem so much a part of the era (late 1950s to 1960s), that I never once questioned the setting. Top Five Things I Loved About NOTHING IS FORGOTTEN 1. Yuli. She was by far my favorite character. She's so complex, strong and vulnerable, proud with fits of guilt, having lived through the horrors of the second World War, she's hard to identify with, but so easy to root for. 2. Michael. His optimistic Americanism is the polar opposite of Yuli's Eastern European post-war hopelessness. His quest to uncover the truth is both reckless and admirable, making him an absolutely fascinating protagonist. 3. History. I love history, but even more when it serves as a backdrop to a compelling story. The author's meticulous attention to detail made history come alive, leaving me wanting to learn more about the events of that time. 4. The ending. One of the best endings ever. 5. Storytelling. The way the story unfolds kept me glued to the pages, but the characters made me care about what happened. Bottom Line One of my all-time favorite novels. I will be reading more by Peter Golden. Disclaimer I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.