"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" --
[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.)
The bones of a good book but poorly editing and who read the story for content.
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.
"Love & Treasure" reads smoothly and does draw the reader in. But the large issues underlying the book --
There are three main components to the novel. The first is the Hungarian Treasure Train, which was loaded with the
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.
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.
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.
The book is divided into 3
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.