review

Love & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

love treasureLove & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

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.

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12 thoughts on “Love & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman”

  1. Rebecca – Well, I must say I do like a well-researched novel where the author’s ‘done the homework.’ And it is a fascinating topic isn’t it? I’ll have to check this one out – thanks.

  2. I have not read anything by this author. I knew she had written the Mommy Track mysteries, but did not know she had written so many other novels. This one is right up my alley, so it seems a good place to start. My husband is interested too, at least in the concept (Nazis, train, art treasure). We just watched The Rape of Europa (documentary) and he has read the book. So a topic we are both interested in.

    1. Thanks for the documentary recommendation, Tracy: I’ll look for it. I haven’t read any of the Mommy Track mysteries, just a couple of her other novels before this one, and this one I think is her best.

  3. I’ve read two books by Ayelet Waldman, seen her on TV and read her hilariously funny blog. I must go back to that.
    I will put this on the TBR Mount Kilimanjaro. And I’ll put Red Hook Road on it, too. (Who am I kidding? My TBR list is starting to look like the phone book.)
    I’m not fond of reading about the horrors of WWII or its aftermath, but I’ve read a few books lately with a small bit about the war. I may be able to read this one.
    It is a relevant topic today, as artwork stolen from Jewish dealers or collectors is showing up in very curious hands.

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