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.
jack wiseman, immersed as ever in the pages of a book, did not notice the arrival of the bus until alerted by the stir among the other people waiting in the overheated station lounge. The pugnacious chin he aimed at the coach's windows had a bit of Kleenex clinging to it, printed with a comma of blood, and his starched and ironed shirt gaped at the collar, revealing pleats in the drapery of his neck and a thick white thatch of fur on his chest. He squinted, caught a glimpse of the glory of his granddaughter's hair, and pulled himself to his feet. He tore a corner from the back page of somebody's discarded Ellsworth American and tucked it between the pages of his old Loeb edition of Herodotus, measuring with a rueful snort the remaining unread inches. He had never been a man to leave a job unfinished, a fact on which he supposed he must have been relying, perhaps unconsciously, in undertaking to reread, for what must be the eighth or ...
This terrifying period in history often proves to be literary gold dust as authors explore the reactions of human beings forced into situations far beyond their control. Waldman's characters hold up to circumstance, with their shortcomings becoming an essential part of the story. Ayelet Waldman has had great success in her writing career, with one of her novels even being adapted for the big screen. I can safely say that Love and Treasure has the vivacity and courage to reach such lofty heights as well.
(Reviewed by Lucy Rock).
Full Review (1233 words).
Although aligned with the Axis powers, Hungary avoided direct participation in World War II until 1941 and most Jews in the country were protected from deportation, although they were subject to anti-Jewish laws. This changed in 1944 when Hitler discovered that Hungary had been secretly engaged in peace negotiations with the USA and UK and, shortly after, German forces occupied the country - after which wholesale deportation of Jews and Roma to concentration camps began. By the end of the war it is estimated that upwards of 600,000 Hungarian Jews and 28,000 Roma had been killed.
Soon after taking over control in 1944, the pro-Nazi Hungarian Government, led by Ferenc Szálasi, ordered Jewish citizens to hand over the vast majority of ...
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