Author: Ayelet Waldman
Genre: historical fiction
Published: April 1 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
A spellbinding new novel of contraband masterpieces, tragic love, and the unexpected legacies of forgotten crimes, Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure weaves a tale around the fascinating, true history of the Hungarian Gold Train in the Second World War.
In 1945 on the outskirts of Salzburg, victorious American soldiers capture a train filled with unspeakable riches: piles of fine gold watches; mountains of fur coats; crates filled with wedding rings, silver picture frames, family heirlooms, and Shabbat candlesticks passed down through generations. Jack Wiseman, a tough, smart New York Jew, is the lieutenant charged with guarding this treasure—a responsibility that grows more complicated when he meets Ilona, a fierce, beautiful Hungarian who has lost everything in the ravages of the Holocaust. Seventy years later, amid the shadowy world of art dealers who profit off the sins of previous generations, Jack gives a necklace to his granddaughter, Natalie Stein, and charges her with searching for an unknown woman—a woman whose portrait and fate come to haunt Natalie, a woman whose secret may help Natalie to understand the guilt her grandfather will take to his grave and to find a way out of the mess she has made of her own life.
A story of brilliantly drawn characters—a suave and shady art historian, a delusive and infatuated Freudian, a family of singing circus dwarfs fallen into the clutches of Josef Mengele, and desperate lovers facing choices that will tear them apart—Love and Treasure is Ayelet Waldman’s finest novel to date: a sad, funny, richly detailed work that poses hard questions about the value of precious things in a time when life itself has no value, and about the slenderest of chains that can bind us to the griefs and passions of the past.
Certain times in world history will always interest hold an interest for me, and I readily admit to being a fan of quite a lot of WWII-era fiction. The trick to being a fan of such a popular genre with such widespread appeal is to find the books that are unique; ones that tell different stories than the well-worn narratives we're heard and read so often. Love & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman is just that kind of historical novel. Set against a familiar backdrop, Waldman's historical fiction novel focuses on a pretty unexplored era and experience of the global war.
The multigenerational family story frame has been done before, but Waldman's set of main characters are more than able to bear up under the close scrutiny of a three hundred fifty page story. Though the Holocaust looms large over the plot and the characters, it never overwhelms either element. Both Jack and Natalie make for compelling and complex protagonists; when they make mistakes you commiserate and hope they learn. When they succeed, it almost feels personal. The goals that Natalie and Jack set for themselves seem impossible, but it's hard not to root for them and believe in their quest for redemption/peace/solace.
Love & Treasure is a novel that wears many hats and takes on many themes over the course of its length. Waldman is a clever, able author and the opinions and messages presented are as subtle as the questions and ideas she raises with her story. The circumstances in Love & Treasure canseem hard to imagine, but Waldman, with Ilona's lifestory especially, brings that historical horror to an immediate reality. I have to say that Jack's earlier story was the more intriguing timeline/storyline for me personally, but that Natalie grew on me the longer I read her narrative.
Like a lot of historical novels, this can be hard to read. A lot of the characters in the book suffer, and there aren't always happy endings. I liked the harsh honesty of Waldman's novel; Love & Treasure is a creative historical novel. I also enjoyed that it was not afraid to veer a little humorous when needed, but always kept pace with a clear plot and story.