Love and Treasure a novel

by Ayelet Waldman

Book, 2014



Call number




New York, NY Alfred A. Knopf, 2014


"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" --… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member detailmuse
Soon after I’d enjoyed Waldman’s 2009 essay collection, Bad Mother, I heard an interview where she characterized her writing philosophy as not exactly write what you know but write what you want to know. Walking the talk, she then described the genesis of her next writing project -- she'd
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Googled keywords of topics that interested her: Hungary (she wanted to visit a friend there and liked the excuse of researching a writing project) + the Holocaust (she’s Jewish and hadn’t written about it) + art (she was interested) = a novel about the Hungarian Gold Train at the end of WWII. I was thrilled to learn that she’s seen her idea through to publication as Love and Treasure.

[On the train were] 1,500 cases of watches, jewelry, and silver, 5,250 carpets, thousands of coats and stoles and muffs of mink, fox, and ermine, crates of microscopes and cameras, porcelain and glassware, furniture, books and manuscripts and tapestries, gold coins and bullion, the few remaining precious gems, the liturgical objects, the stamp collections and silver-backed hairbrushes, all the items, valuable and less so, that constituted the wealth of the Jews of Hungary, 437,402 of whom had been deported to Auschwitz over the course of just 56 days almost exactly a year before.

A bit like Nicole Krauss’s Great House, this novel is written as a series of novellas linked by a shared item, in this case a jeweled pendant. In the first, the pendant is discovered by an American army officer charged with securing the contents of the Gold Train in 1945 Salzburg amid displaced persons and the aftermath of war. In the second, that officer’s grand-daughter works with a gray-market art dealer in 2013 Budapest to trace ownership of the pendant. And finally, that owner and her life are explored in 1913 Budapest.

I had a couple false starts with this novel; the first section felt wooden and I feared that Waldman’s “Googled” premise wasn’t going to work. But near the end of that section, she captured me and I felt a story begin and then get better and better. She writes well, the material is always intellectually interesting (the aftermath of war, especially regarding Hungarian Jews; art history; feminism and suffrage), and eventually it also becomes emotionally engaging. And enjoyable! -- in the second section there’s a nod to a fairy tale that’s a blatant chuckle between writer and reader, and the third section, narrated by a Freudian analyst, has much amusing satire. And the story is important: in the end, it's clear that the value of the stolen cargo on the Gold Train is insignificant compared with the Holocaust's stolen human potential.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
I like this author and I really wanted to like this book. It was about an event I had no knowledge but so much was missing. The key to the story - did I miss it - how did the painter come to paint the painting. So annoying. Also some of the things written about survives is so wrong. What happened
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to a whole bunch of people! The therapy was also wrong.
The bones of a good book but poorly editing and who read the story for content.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
As a piece of historical fiction, particularly one that deals with lesser discussed aspects of history related to WWII, this is an impressive book. On the other hand, as a piece of original fiction which simply serves as a worthwhile read in itself, history interests aside, I'm less comfortable
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recommending it.

My largest concern with the book is that it seems incredibly derivative of The White Hotel, though Waldman's work is far more concerned with art. The structure especially reminds me of Thomas' work, a few large separate parts coming from protagonists and narrators of different genders, backgrounds, interests, and experiences, with Freudian psychology as a centerpiece of one (and coming from the analyst), even though Waldman's work is certainly less experimental and sticks to straight prose. Odd as it is, because of that association, the book ended up coming across as formulaic when I reached the third part of the novel where psychology comes in, and I lost considerable interest because of it--and, I suppose I have to say, I lost some amount of respect for the work as well.

As an entertaining read, associations with Thomas aside, there were other issues. Waldman's handle of history and intrigue is admirable, but her writing of romance and familial relationships verged on the sentimental whenever conflict wasn't central to a scene. In fact, the first very short part was so incredibly sentimental that I probably wouldn't have read beyond its brief dozen pages if I hadn't received the book through a first reader program and been expected to write a review. After that first part, the book did pick up, but sentimentality and romance were still serious downfalls within the work, partly because they were simply overly sentimental, and partly because they were just not as well-written as other portions--most portions--of the novel.

And yet. There is material worth admiring here. Waldman's handling of history regarding Hungarian Jews in the aftermath of World War II, and Hungarian women in the years preceding World War I, is graceful and clever, as is the intricate way in which she connected numerous sub-plots and characters across a full century of time. For the most part, the book is well-written, if occasionally over-written (a good example being the first part, which I think the book would be stronger without).

In the end, I don't see myself recommending this book on to any but readers specifically interested in aspects of history dealt with in the novel, such as Hungarian Jews, the Gold Train, and/or the state of Hungary directly following World War II. I truly wanted to like this book, and I'm sure I would have liked it more had I not read and appreciated D.M. Thomas' The White Hotel in the past...but, of course, I did read that work, and the associations are impossible to ignore.
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LibraryThing member wortklauberlein
A promising start and a fascinating historical incident at the basis of the story weren't enough to overcome an awkward present-day middle section and a stilted third part set in Freud's heyday.

"Love & Treasure" reads smoothly and does draw the reader in. But the large issues underlying the book --
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theft of the possessions of Jewish people by the Nazis, the unwillingness of art collectors and nations to return them -- are diminished by the treacly love stories.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
I stayed up late into the night to read this but I'm not sure why. I am sure I would have been better off getting the z-z-zs in. Not at all bad, but not as much as it could have been.

There are three main components to the novel. The first is the Hungarian Treasure Train, which was loaded with the
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worldly goods of the Hungarian Jews who were murdered in concentration camps. The train was guarded by American soldiers after the war. One of them, Jack Wiseman, tries to prevent the brass from looting the train. He meets and falls in love with Ilona, a refugee. She leaves him to journey to Palestine.

Amatai Shasho is a Syrian Jew who works in the family business, retrieving art stolen by Nazis. In Budapest in 2013 he meets Natalie, granddaughter of Jack Wiseman. Natalie has a peacock locket pendant inherited from her grandfather and wants to track down the original owner. Amatai has been searching for a lost painting featuring a similar peacock pendant.

Dr. Zobel is a Jewish psychiatrist in Budapest in 1913. One of his patients is Miss S, a Jewish suffragette. Hers is one of the pictures in the peacock locket.

So, this all ties together, but no one story is fascinating enough to drive the plot as a whole. Ilona's story disappears (or I lost the thread) and that's the missing piece.
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LibraryThing member celticlady53
Love and Treasure is heartbreaking story about the atrocities of World War II against the Hungarian Jews. Told in three different parts, first of Jack Wiseman to his granddaughter just before Jack dies. Jack tells the story of his time as an American Jewish soldier who after the war is commissioned
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to oversee the items from the Hungarian Gold Train. This was a shipment of items, ie. paintings, jewelry, furnishings, silver and anything else that you can imagine, that was confiscated from the Jewish people of Hungary. Jack has a particular item, a peacock necklace, that he wants his granddaughter to return to it's rightful owner or heirs. This was an item that Jack took from the storehouse because it intrigued him but he did feel guilty for having taken it.

The second part of the story is about Natalie Stein, Jacks granddaughter, who goes to Hungary and Israel to return this necklace to the heirs. While there she comes in contact with a man who is on a similar mission. He is looking for the painting of a woman wearing this peacock necklace. This leads the two of them on a search that uncovers a story of the original owner of the necklace.

Third narrator is of a Freudian psychiatrist who is charged with healing a young woman who is deemed by her parents to be be having hysterics. All these characters are brought together to tell a wonderful story about what happened to the Jewish people in Hungary and how they were treated and ultimately killed in the camps of Hitler. People who have lost not only their possessions but sometimes whole families wiped out by an insane dictator.

I loved this story and I feel that is should be read not only for its historical value, but for the warmth and compassionate characters that the author created to tell this heartbreaking story of a resilient people, ostracized because of their religion. I highly recommend this book. I intend to read more by this author.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
3.5 What first attracted me this book was the mention of the Hungarian Jews, most of the Holocaust books I have read seemed to be of the German or Polish Jews. That this takes place after the Americans have liberated the camps was also a plus. The 42 car gold train, as it came to be known ended up
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in Hungary and was put into the control of the Americans and for the purpose of this story into the protection of a young American Jewish officer, named Jack Wiseman. The cars of course filled with the possessions of the Hungarian Jews sent to the camps and many to their deaths. What happened to the Jewish people that survived the camps, but no longer had any place to call home, no where to go?

This is a generational novel and though it starts with Jack and then on to his granddaughter, the storyline actually follows a peacock necklace that Jack takes from the warehouse. The story is divided into three parts, each part interesting in its own way, following history and the rightful owner of this necklace. The last part even lets us into the thought processes of an eminent psychiatrist. A story well told of guilt, love, new beginnings and forgiveness.

In the last part of the book Jack ridden with guilt over taking the necklace realizes,
"The wealth of the Jews of Hungary, of all of Europe, was to be found not in the laden boxcars of the Gold Train but in the grandmothers and mothers and daughters themselves, in the doctors and lawyers, the grain dealers and psychiatrists, the writers and artists and artists who had created a culture of sophistication, of intellectual and artistic achievement. And that wealth, everything of real value, was but all extinguished."

As with all the best novels, this one has pointed me toward further reading. In the acknowledgements, the author mentions the guidance of Ronald Zweig, and his book [book:The Gold Train: The Destruction of the Jews and the Looting of Hungary|2054456].

I read in the Wiki, that a settlement agreement of this gold train by the United States took place on September 30, 2005. So many years later.

ARC from publisher.
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LibraryThing member kdabra4
I do like to learn about the Holocaust through historical fiction. Here we have the Hungarian gold train which I knew nothing about and will definitely research further. The Americans seized it before the Russians could get hold of it, and promptly began to pilfer from it.
The book is divided into 3
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separate and distinct time periods. Each section had a strong, progressive, interesting female character. Jack, the young American soldier who stole a peacock necklace from the train, was my favorite character, followed up in Book 2 by his granddaughter who tries to return the stolen piece to a descendent of whoever it belonged to. Book 3 was where I went to sleep, literally. It didn't seem to fit in with the flow of the previous sections, although it eventually made sense. But that and an unresolved storyline are the reasons I went from 4 stars to 3.
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LibraryThing member DavidO1103
Jewish US Army officer at end of WWII in charge of guarding train full of booty stolen from Hungarian Jews takes a jeweled pendant. Decades later, his daughter tries to return it to its rightful owner. She becomes involved with an Israeli man in this attempt. (I couldn't buy the relationship...)
LibraryThing member phyllis.shepherd
This story is centered on the factual episode of the Hungarian Gold Train during WWII. Jews were compelled to turn over all of their belongings to banks, being assured that everything would eventually be returned to them. Massive amounts of goods were loaded onto a train that eventually found its
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way to Salzburg. We meet Jack, who was ordered to guard the train and its treasure. His granddaughter, Natalie, seeks to find the heirs of the rightful owner of a necklace that was on that train. Along the way we are introduced to art dealers, suffragettes, a misguided Freudian psychoanalyst, and a dwarf, in a story that weaves back and forth in time, slowly revealing the fates of the characters and treasures referred to in the title.
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LibraryThing member neddludd
This is an interesting work--really more a series of linked short novellas than a coherent novel. In the first part, set shortly after VE Day in 1945, we meet a highly moral Jewish-American military officer. He is tasked with guarding and inventorying a train containing all manner of personal items
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that have been stolen from the Hungarian Jews sent to the camps. The second piece shifts to contemporary times; the officer's granddaughter seeks to fulfill a wish spelled out in the now deceased officer's will. The third part shifts to the early 20th-century Budapest and is framed as a case study by a psychiatrist who provides a highly detailed analysis of the customs and status of upper-middle class Jews who have achieved significant positions in a Hungary that under Franz Joseph has bestowed upon Jews all the rights of citizens. An Epilogue is tacked on but does nothing to elaborate what has gone before. There is an unspoken horror the officer feels in knowing that none of the items on the train will ever be returned to their rightful owners, as so many Hungarian Jews were sent to the death camps in 194. However, even in the face of this atrocity he maintains his unwavering sense of right and wrong. An interesting sidelight is the subservient position women found themselves in at the turn of the century, and an important chord running through all three sections is suffrage for women and later the liberation of women to accomplish all they can.
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LibraryThing member SignoraEdie
I have mixed feelings about this book. The basic story is about the Hungarian Gold Train, filled in World War II with the personal belongings of Jewish victims that the Allies are supposedly to return to owners or their survivors. That is enough to hook my interest. The first part of the story
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(1945), about an American soldier charged with protecting and inventorying the contents I found very intriguing. However, the story moves on to present day which never fully resolved itself and then finally jumped back to a pre-war period in Hungary that seemed nonessential and distracting to me.
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LibraryThing member Mishker
An astonishing and surprising story of a special piece of jewelery and the lives it affected throughout it's long journey. After World War II, Lieutenant Jack Wiseman is charged to examine and organize the contents of the Hungarian Gold Train. Filled with the items that made up the lives of
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Hungary's Jewish population, Jack is left to sift through thousands of dishes, linens, watches, candlesticks and jewelery, hoping that it will find it's way back to the families or any living heirs of the people it once belonged to. Jack meets Ilona, recently released from a concentration camp and is intrigued by her strength and determination. As he attempts to find any of Ilona's belongings among the Gold Train, he comes across a unique peacock locket that originated from Ilona's home town of Nagyvarad. Years later, shortly before his death, Jack charges his granddaughter, Natalie to find an ancestor of the owner of his pilfered locket and return it to them.

I found this novel absolutely engaging, heartfelt and bittersweet. It was difficult for me to get my feelings written down for this one, since they were all over the place. Ayelet Waldman has created a band a characters that are real and with raw emotions and actions that made this story resonate within me. Though told from several different points of view, Jack's character is seen through several different points in his life and his quest to return the items from the Gold Train, no matter how feeble a venture it may seems, never waivers.
" 'You guard so conscientiously that treasure train. And for whom?' For the Jews of Hungary, Jack wished he could reply. But of course by now he feared that was no more than the vaguest and most unlikely of hopes."
Bravely, Love and Treasure not only deals with the thieving from the Gold Train and the poor treatment of those liberated from the concentration camps, but through another set of absorbing characters the women's suffrage movement in Budapest is explored, as well as common medical treatment for women's ailments at the time. Nina and Gizella were awe-inspiring; their story adds richness and even more mystery to the peacock necklace. The necklace as a character itself ties the stories of these distinct characters together and I thoroughly enjoyed the the tale it divulged as I learned it's story. I love learning about history through fiction, and Love and Treasure brought to light parts of the past that have long been swept under the rug.
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LibraryThing member kimkimkim
A solid 3-1/2 stars. I found the first two parts engaging and the dialogue believable. I wanted to keep reading. The last part while probably true to the norms of the day fell flat and was tedious and ultimately felt completely engineered. Despite my disappointment with this last part I think the
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author left enough questions unanswered that I kept wondering about the characters whose stories were unfinished. I keep thinking about the humanism, ethics, morality or perhaps the lack thereof and the justifications that were proffered. The few sentences offering redemption are going to require more questioning and pondering.
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LibraryThing member SheTreadsSoftly
Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman is highly recommended for those who enjoy WWII historical fiction based on facts.

Following three different time periods, Love and Treasure opens in the present with a granddaughter, Natalie Stein, caring for her dying grandfather, Jack Wiseman. Then the story
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jumps back in time, to 1945 at the end of WWII, when then Lt. Jack Wiseman is with the US troops in Austria who seize a train full of treasures that were all originally items confiscated from Hungarian Jews by the Nazis - the so called Hungarian Gold Train. Jack becomes involved with with Ilona, a Holocaust survivor, who eventually breaks his heart and leaves him to go to Palestine. Jack ends up keeping an enamel peacock necklace in remembrance of Ilona, but his dying wish is that Natalie returns it to its rightful owner. In the present, Natalie travels to Budapest in hopes of tracking down the rightful owner and discovers the necklace was depicted in a painting, Portrait of Frau E. The last part of Love and Treasure takes another jump back in time to 1913 where we meet Frau E, Nina Schillinger.

Waldman does an exemplary job incorporating history with a richly layered story. The complicated story is told through the perspective of characters based in three different time periods and under very different circumstances. Her characters are finely crafted, multidimensional people, flawed but realistic. She doesn't shy away from some of the less than stellar characteristics of her characters and those around them, like the officers who furnished their quarters with items from the train, or Jack taking the peacock necklace, but Waldman also treats her characters with care and compassion rather than harsh judgement as they try to do the best they can in their circumstances.

This is a perceptive, well written novel that assumes a measure of intelligence on the part of the reader as you follow the three separate stories that combine to make a complete picture of who originally owned the peacock necklace. There is a wonderful sense of time and place captured in the writing of each part of the story, allowing them to separately represent their respective time periods but also making the whole of the story that much richer for the care taken with them.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.
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LibraryThing member Vicki_Weisfeld
This lovely novel opens with a prologue set in 2013, involving elderly Jack Wiseman and his granddaughter Natalie. Her new husband has abandoned her, and she’s just quit her Manhattan attorney’s job to come stay with Jack in Red Hook, Maine, and her beloved grandfather is dying. It’s
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questionable which of them needs more tender care.
Searching a drawer, Jack runs across a worn black pouch containing a jeweled peacock dangling on a chain. “Whose was it?” Natalie asks, her curiosity aroused. “Well, that’s the thing. I don’t know.” He charges her with the near-impossible task of returning it to its rightful owner, which will require unraveling its history.
The book then reveals how the pendant came into Jack’s hands at the close of World War II. It had been one item among thousands and thousands on the Hungarian Gold Train, a 42-car freight train the Germans were using to remove valuables—most of them looted from Hungarian Jews—to Berlin. The train was seized by French troops and finally came under U.S. military control and the contents warehoused in Salzburg, Austria. (The U.S. government kept most details about the Hungarian Gold Train secret for 50 years.)
Items were pilfered from the horde by thieves and the soldiers guarding it; U.S. military commanders used the warehouse as a department store for outfitting their quarters with fine china, silverware, crystal, furniture, and oriental rugs. Jack, in charge of the loot, had to comply with his superiors’ orders and was constantly frustrated at his inability to protect and preserve these treasures, much less return them to their rightful owners. His responsibilities as a soldier and as a Jew are at war within him.
Waldman writes compellingly about Jack’s situation and the treatment of the Displaced Persons flooding Salzburg, many of whom were concentration camp survivors. He meets one, a Hungarian with flame-red hair, Ilona Jakab, and falls in love. Jack keeps the peacock pendant in her memory, but never loses the feeling that taking it was dishonorable.
In her quest to fulfill her grandfather’s charge to find the pendant’s rightful present-day owner, Natalie travels to Budapest and finds much more than she expects. That section of the book is a treasure hunt, a mystery story, and a romance.
The last major section of the book dips back in time to 1913. It’s narrated by a libidinous psychiatrist charged with “treating” Nina S., an early suffragist who wears the pendant, and whom he rapidly concludes is quite sane, just at odds with her repressive father.
Natalie, Ilona, and Nina are interesting, compelling characters in challenging situations. Waldman doesn’t tell a good story once, but three times. Descriptions are vivid, characters’ motivations heartfelt, and conversations witty and spirited. Occasionally, she may be a little heavy-handed, and occasionally a verbal anachronism or clunky love scene sneaks in, but overall, the stories have strong narrative power. I don’t quite understand all the carping about this book in the mainstream media—each reviewer seeming to fixate on some different issue. I found it not only an exploration of conflicting loyalties, identity, and the struggle to be honorable, but also a fascinating historical mystery.
Love & Treasure is certainly timely, given recent renewed attention to the issue of Nazi plunder. The peacock pendant, silent witness to the pain and abuse of history, is the treasure in Waldman’s story, but love is the constant.
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LibraryThing member rkreish
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

I picked up Ayelet Waldman’s newest novel because I really liked Red Hook Road, which I read before my blogging days. I was expecting a smart novel with affecting characters, and I wasn’t disappointed. So much literary fiction drives me
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crazy or I feel like I can’t write about it much, but Love & Treasure was a great read and I have a few things to say about it.

The story centers on art looted by the Nazis and held by Americans after World War II on the Hungarian Gold Train, the treasure of the title. Specifically, the story centers on an enameled brooch of a peacock and a Hungarian painting featuring the brooch on a woman with a peacock head (it’s a bit surreal). It takes place in three timelines: the present, where the granddaughter of Jack, a deceased US Army captain, inherits the brooch; the aftermath of World War II when Jack lives in Salzburg and guards the train, and, finally, the early twentieth century in Budapest where the first owner of the brooch lived.

It’s a complicated story both politically and personally: none of the characters are totally good or totally bad, the issue of reparations for art stolen by Nazis is complicated, and most importantly, Europe after World War II was a mess in terms of dealing with displaced persons. I tend to gravitate to fiction more than non-fiction, and I’m grateful to have delved into such a complicated issue in a novel that was evidently very thoroughly researched instead of just reading a really long New Yorker magazine article about it. Fiction is more affecting, I think. It’s hard to tell people to pick up a Holocaust novel, even though I know lots of people picked up Sarah’s Key, for example as it was made into a movie or lots of book groups read it, but I encourage you to give this book a chance. It’s not manipulative, and it’s very well-researched.
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LibraryThing member gbelik
Gail Belikiewicz This is a wonderfully complex story focused around 3 times periods, the present, 1945 Salzberg, and 1913 Budapest. It begins with Jack Wiseman, an honorable man who tries unsuccessfully to guard the Gold Train, a train and then a warehouse full of goods stolen by the Nazis from
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Hungarian Jews. It is a love story for him, but also a moral dilemma that haunts him all his life; he leaves his granddaughter in the present the problem of trying to return a locket to its rightful owner. Of course, this is not a simple thing, but it is a rack on which the clothing of a wonderful story of history can be hung. The issue of what would be the "right" disposition of this loot is explored from all sides. My enjoyment of this book grew as it progressed and though I began to become confused, it all came together for me by the end.
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LibraryThing member St.CroixSue
This is an ambitious historical fiction piece that centers on a pendant taken from the historic Hungarian Gold Train near the end of World War II. The story follows the pendant and all its owners through their loves and loses. Adding interest is the early suffragette movement in Europe and the
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early use of psychoanalysis.
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Original publication date



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