Fic­tion

Love & Treasure

  • Review
By – March 20, 2014

Ayelet Waldman’s his­tor­i­cal nov­el is a chal­leng­ing and beau­ti­ful read in a pro­logue and three parts. It begins in the present with Natal­ie Stein, a recent­ly divorced young woman vis­it­ing her dying grand­fa­ther, Jack Wise­man. She is dis­tressed and hope­less; wor­ried about her, the grand­fa­ther gives Natal­ie a vel­vet pouch con­tain­ing a gold fil­i­greed pen­dant with an enam­eled paint­ing of a pea­cock, amethyst and peri­dot gem­stones alter­nat­ing at the tip of each of its feath­ers. Grand­fa­ther enlists Natal­ie to help him find the own­er of a valu­able old lock­et he has secret­ly held onto for so many decades. 

The nov­el moves then to 1945 Salzburg, post-World War II, when Amer­i­can offi­cer Jack Wise­man is assigned to pro­tect the con­tents of the Hun­gar­i­an Gold Train. Its cars are filled with incred­i­ble rich­es: gold watch­es and jew­el­ry, com­plete sets of chi­na, furs, art­work, and sil­ver can­dle­sticks, all tak­en away from the Hun­gar­i­an Jews. This seem­ing­ly sim­ple job imme­di­ate­ly becomes very com­pli­cat­ed and polit­i­cal. Wise­man falls in love with Ilona, a beau­ti­ful Hun­gar­i­an DP (dis­placed per­son) who has lost every­thing in the war. 

Next the author takes the read­er to 2013 Budapest, where Natal­ie meets Ami­tai Shasho, an art deal­er who spe­cial­izes in arti­facts lost dur­ing the Holo­caust. Togeth­er they embark on a mis­sion to find a paint­ing depict­ing the pea­cock pen­dant, and hope­ful­ly lead­ing to the heirs of its owner. 

The final sec­tion takes us back to 1913 Budapest, to the friend­ship between Nina S., the daugh­ter of a wealthy Jew­ish fam­i­ly, and Gizel­la Weisz, a dwarf who is sec­re­tary to Mrs. Rozsa Schwim­mer, a leader in the rev­o­lu­tion for women’s suf­frage. The epi­logue takes place at an auc­tion in 1948 New York, when Jack returns from his over­seas service. 

This sto­ry, though a bit com­pli­cat­ed to fol­low, was quite worth­while. We learn in detail about the incred­i­ble wealth and stature of the Jew­ish cit­i­zens of Hun­gary before the war. We learn about café cul­ture and the strug­gle for women’s rights. The nov­el cov­ers the press­ing issue of post­war Jew­ish DP’s and the involve­ment of Amer­i­can army sol­diers at that time. The author dis­cuss­es art­work theft and recov­ery, love, guilt, and responsibility. 

This beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten sto­ry pro­vides much to think about and discuss.

Relat­ed content:

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams is a Cuban-born, Brook­lyn-raised, Long Island-resid­ing mom. She is Hadas­sah Nas­sau’s One Region One Book chair­la­dy, a free­lance essay­ist, and a cer­ti­fied yoga instruc­tor who has loved review­ing books for the JBC for the past ten years.

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