Knopf, March, 2014
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 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.