on February 18, 2014
Ayelet Waldman's new novel Love and Treasure tells the story of the Hungarian "Gold Train", which was discovered in Austria at the end of WWII. It's quite an interesting story, one that was unknown to me, and somewhat in the vein of the new film The Monuments Men, which partly concerns the recovery of works of art and other items stolen from Jewish families when they were sent to the camps. The Gold Train consisted of some 40 boxcars full of household and personal items, furs, cameras, jewelry, gold, silver and cash, art and art objects, all of which were taken from nearly a half-million Hungarian Jews. In Waldman's story, American lieutenant Jack Wiseman, a Jewish linguist, is much in demand as a translator and is put in charge of organizing and looking after the items. As he works his way through the treasure, he comes across a unique peacock pendant, which will feature prominently throughout the novel.
The novel consists of three main sections - Jack's story during the war; his granddaughter Natalie's search for the peacock pendant's owner, which brings her into contact with an art dealer looking for a lost painting involving the same pendant; and the true story of the pendant's provenance. Some reviewers have noted that they found the structure is jarring or disjointed, but it didn't bother me. I found all three sections fascinating and I thought Waldman did a good job bringing all the parts of her story together and no one section was too long or short. What kept it from being a five-star for me was that I felt an emotional distance from the material. It was intellectually stimulating but I didn't really connect to it on an emotional level. It had more of a documentary feel to it, not that that's a bad thing. There is history, mystery, romance, art - it really has a lot going for it and it's obviously well-researched and thoughtfully written. Waldman is a very good writer, one of the few whose books I would buy or order from Vine without even looking at the subject matter. (Check out her novel Red Hook Road, one of the best books I've read in a long time.) This one didn't quite get my highest marks, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth your time. I give her full marks for trying something different from her previous books. I highly recommend it, especially if you have any interest in stories similar to Monuments Men or an interest in the Holocaust or WWII.
I have only read one of Ms. Waldman's previous books so it is with anticipation that I picked this one up. I have read quite a bit of stories set in WWII, among the Holocaust camps, among survivors' tales that have been passed down the years to descendants and more. This one is unique in the fact that it is a Hungarian tale; it revolves around a Jewish community in the early 1900s before WWII, and even before WWI; and it is about the history of a special pendant. Not only that, there are four stories that are connected to one another seamlessly and I will admit that throughout this entire book, I was looking out of each of the main character's eyes. It was as if I was sitting in the same room with them, listening to their stories.
It is haunting. It is one of the very few books that followed me throughout the day as I go about doing the chores and normal routines of life. It is not a book that is meant to be rushed through but it is a book meant to dwell upon and read closely to hear what the author is trying to say through her characters. It is a treasure trove of stories.
I didn't find the four stories disjointed. I found it fascinating. The only disappointment I had was that there weren't more to the stories ... but at the same time, I was able to use my imagination to fill in the blanks. It has been a long time since I've read a book written by an author who not only told the story, but left it open to one's imagination.
This one captured the imagination simply with the mystery of this peacock pendant. Jack Wiseman asked his granddaughter if she would do him a favor by tracking down who the pendant belonged to. The stories of a young man sent to guard a camp full of survivors and the subsequent discovery of the train filled with merchandise that was intercepted on its way to Berlin in the last days of the war keeps one's interest piqued throughout this book. One just had to keep turning the pages to know what was going to happen next. There the story follows Jack's granddaughter, Natalie, who fulfilled his request by going to Hungary to track down the artist of the peacock, only to go on a treasure hunt for an elusive painting. Then the story moves to 1913, where a doctor shares his story of a remarkable patient of his, with the remarkable pendant being in her possession.
The stories are loosely linked such as items tend to be, whether they're displaced in acts of war or given as gifts to people, or simply stolen for memories of love. Waldman has a way of firing up the imagination with this book and it will undoubtedly haunt me from now on, no matter what Holocaust story I end up reading next. This is one of the few books where it is just brilliantly done.
The story begins In Maine in 2013. Next it is 1945-46 in Salzburg, Austria after WWII.
I began reading this novel with great anticipation and the first few chapters about a train loaded with household goods and treasures stolen from Hungarian Jews who were sent to concentration camps very interesting and based upon fact. US Army Captain Jack Weisman, a multilingual academically oriented New Yorkers was charged with receiving the contents of the train from the Hungarians after the end of WWII and storing them carefully in a warehouse in Salzburg, Austria. He falls hopelessly in love with a Hungarian woman of the Jewish faith who is a Displaced Person. The relationship is doomed because the woman wants to leave Europe. We learn that many of his superior officers and diplomats are aware that in all likelihood these items will never be returned to their owners, despite being carefully cataloged, and appropriate many of the objects to furnish their homes while stationed in Austria.
Erstwhile Captain Weisman dies in 2013 and his dying request is that his granddaughter, an attorney, return the special locket that he had slipped into his pocket back in the Salzburg warehouse to its owner or any living relative. The granddaughter travels to Budapest where she discovers that the locket, embellished with a peacock and jewels, contains a photograph of two women, one a fair haired fair skinned beauty and the other a beautiful dwarf. She also finds romance and love in Budapest.
Things begin seriously deteriorate in this story and become downright boring as the reader is transported to Budapest 1913 where we learn about the relationship between the two women pictured in the locket, perhaps lesbians, but devout suffragettes and protestors for women's rights. Since this was intolerable the father of the woman who is lovely and tall, he forces her to undergo psychoanalysis presumably because he has diagnosed her as suffering from dementia praecox. The psychoanalysis is interminably long and boring. We learn that the dwarf turns is a member of a traveling family of dwarves in the entertainment business.
If you have actually come to the end of my review and the matters described seem interesting, please judge "Love & Treasure" by Ayelet Waldman for yourself.
Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman is a novel steeped in the Holocaust without once being immersed in the awful facts of the camps. There are multiple threads and numerous fascinating characters but the thrust of the story is from the viewpoint of three individuals during three different times. We get clear insight into these times by means of Ms Waldman's remarkable prowress as a gifted story-teller in full command of her characters and their times.
We first meet Jack Wiseman in Salzburg during 1945 right after the end of the war. Captain Wiseman is in charge of dealing with a trainload of confiscated Hungarian Jewish goods known as the Gold Train. While in Salzburg, Jack meets Ilona, a Hungarian Jew just released from the camps. Among the goods on the train, he finds a jeweled locket in the form of a peacock that he hopes belongs to Ilona. It does not. The quest for the rightful owner occupies the center of this remarkable novel.
Jack's granddaughter, Natalie, finds the locket in the present time in her grandfather's home as he is dying, and she takes on the task of returning the locket to its rightful owners, a monumental task given the 70 year lapse in time. Natalie enlists the aid of Amitai, an Israeli whose business is brokering the sale of goods such as the peacock locket - valuable, but not financially priceless, however priceless a treasure they may have been to their original owners. The detective portion of this novel reminds me of The Lost.
The third portion of the novel takes place during the milieu of the locket's original owner in 1913 Budapest. It is told from the viewpoint of Herr Doktor Zobel, a psychiatrist who has been asked by her upper middle class Jewish father to analyze and "cure" Nina of her mental ailments. Nina's ailments are that she wishes to become a physician and refuses to marry the man her father has chosen, regardless of the financial expediency of the union. Nina is a suffragette. She has no more severe ailment than painful menstrual cramps.
Among the awful truths about the Holocaust is that each life that was lost, each spirit that was broken, resonates into the future. Children were not born, discoveries were not made, and legacies were lost. Israel was born in part out of guilt, populated by a mixture of the fierce sabras, the broken from the camps, and those defiant ones who would see the world end before another Holocaust. These truths are made clear through the very human characters in this important and poignant novel.
on April 6, 2014
I am a huge fan of Ayelet Waldman, so I preordered this book with great anticipation. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in Love and Treasure, and ended up skimming through the last third of the book. The book is comprised of three loosely connected stories starting with the post holocaust tale of Jack, Ilona, and the Gold Train, a train of confiscated and stolen goods that had once belonged to Hungarian Jews. This section of the book was very good, and had the author continued the story of holocaust survivors struggling to build new lives I would have been fascinated. Rather, Waldman spends the last two thirds of the book tracing the history of a locket that Jack had recovered from the train. I just found that these were not the stories I wanted to read, particularly the last third of the book that talks about the locket's origin, the beginning of psychoanalysis, and the suffragette movement. Sadly, this is not a book I would recommend.
on August 20, 2014
At the close of WW2 the American army took possession of something that came to be known as the Hungarian Gold Train. It's 1945 and soldier Jack Wiseman is put in charge of emptying a train of box cars filled with gold watches and jewelry, mounds of furs, art work, as well as complete household furnishings like carpets, dinner ware, silver services, table and bed linens.
When he realizes that all these possessions were taken from Jews before their deportation to the work and death camps the young American is moved to question to whom these artifacts now rightfully belong.
When the story moves to the present day, Jack's granddaughter, Natalie, is trying to fulfill his dying wish that she find the owner of a piece of jewelry he took from the Gold Train. It's a pendant in the shape of a peacock and as Natalie begins her search in Hungary she discovers it's a locket with a tiny picture of two women in it. She is joined by an Israeli art dealer who thinks there may be a connection with a lost painting he has been in search of.
Natalie is eventually able to track down a relative of one of the women in the locket picture, who may or may not have been the peacock's rightful owner, and gives her the piece.
In the last section of the book it's 1913 and through the eyes of a practitioner of the then new psychotherapy we learn of the relationship of the two women in the locket and who in fact had owned the peacock.
The Hungarian Gold Train is an historical fact around which Ms. Waldman built her story. Unfortunately, that's what it feels like. Characters and plot are built rather than created.
For example, the author spent little time on motivation so that Natalie meets the Israeli in one chapter and the next one begins with her in bed with him. (True, we are told he liked her heart shaped ass but there's no word on what she liked about him.)
Then in the last 1913 section, it's mostly hackneyed stereotypes of that era's beliefs: ambition if a woman a sign of hysteria, menstrual cramps a sign of pathology, the deranging effect of a female catching sight of a penis. It's more caricature than creation.
If the author didn't have the time (or desire) to create characters with a depth that makes readers care about them she should have done a non-fiction piece on the Gold Train. It's existence and ultimate disposition is worthy of being remembered but not in a second-rate fictionalization.
on October 2, 2014
This was my first time reading Ayelet Waldman and I really wanted to like Love and Treasure. My mom's parents are Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivors, so my affinity for this particular Waldman book was strong. But...not strong enough to get me over what bugged me incessantly throughout all three narrative threads of this book.
Whether it's Jack's wartime feelings for Ilona, Amitai's modern-day treasure hunt with Natalie or Dr. Zobel's analysis of Nina, it's the men who take center stage in this book. Don't be lured by the idea of a strong-willed female writer having well-developed female characters. Instead, we get such tropes as hot-tempered redheads and confused Americans. At no point do any of the women actually get to tell their stories. Waldman leaves it to the men to drive the action, to reveal their feelings and motivations and make decisions about whom they love.
Perhaps my expectations were off, but I finished this book rather annoyed and not at all interested in reading any other of the author's works. A truly missed opportunity. I can only imagine how much richer, what a literary void this book could have filled if Waldman had given Natalie, Ilona, Nina and even Gizella the chance to speak!
on August 14, 2014
I just finished this book, which was my first by this author. I bought it because the synopsis sounded interesting and I thought I would learn something new. The first half of the book was very good and had me totally immersed in the plot. Then came the second half. This portion was completely disjointed from the first half. The author decided on the character personalities and plot in the second half, without making any attempt to logically explain in the first half, why these were plausible choices. I found this to be rather arrogant. I was so disappointed in this lazy and badly thought out way of writing that I will not read this author again.
on May 8, 2014
Have you ever picked up a book and felt that it was so familiar that you almost wonder if you’ve read it before? Something about it ̶ be it the plot, or a character, or the setting ̶ makes you say, “Wait, I know this story!” You know, when you read a reinvented fairy tale or sometimes a particular author that tends to write a similar story again and again. This happened to me last week as I was reading Ayelet Waldman’s latest novel, Love and Treasure.
The book is at heart about a pendant, its provenance, the procurement by a later owner, and the quest to return the jewelry. Jack Wiseman is a US army officer, who after the war has ended, is given the task of guarding and inventorying the contents of the Hungarian Gold Train. For those who might not know (I didn’t) this story builds on true historical events. A part of Operation Margarethe, the Nazi invasion of Hungary, the Hungarian government, colluding with the Nazi invaders, forced Jewish residents to turn over all valuables. These were in turn loaded onto a train bound for Berlin. In 1945, the train was seized by the Allies. Thus began the difficult task of restitution, with many of the owners having been killed in concentration camps and army leaders pilfering objects for personal use.
Jack’s story begins in Austria, as he tries to fight superiors taking possession of the train’s contents for personal use. Meanwhile, he has met a woman, a survivor of the camps, for whom he takes a necklace from the train, in the hopes that it had belonged to her family. He eventually returns stateside with the necklace in hand. Much later, as Jack is dying, he passes this necklace to his granddaughter Nathalie, whom he hopes will be able to return it. The novel has a tripartite structure, with the first portion covering Jack’s time in Austria, the second chronicling Natalie’s attempts to return the necklace, and the third telling the history of the necklace’s origin.
Love and Treasure felt very familiar, having read Robert M. Edsel’s The Monument’s Men (I still need to see the movie!), as well as Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind. The former is a nonfiction account of a team of Brits and Americans, who as the war came to an end, worked to prevent the destruction of numerous priceless works of art. The latter is a work of fiction concerning the restitution of a painting stolen in WWI. Similar to Love and Treasure, part of The Girl You Left Behind is set in the past and a portion is concerned with the present day ramifications of the original theft. In terms of composition, the stories felt similar. However, though Waldman’s novel is more literary, I found it not as seamless as Moyes’.
I found the three parts of the story disjointed, particularly the last third of the book, with which I was particularly disappointed. I was travelling as I read the novel, which may have contributed to the fragmented feeling I got while reading it. Love and Treasure felt like three separate books crammed together into one, too loosely connected to make for a great story once combined.
All in all, I really loved the topic, but was overall disappointed with the execution. I think I might have been happier with the experience if I had just read the first 2/3 of the book and stopped there. The writing is great, and the subject was spot on, but the story itself was just lacking a little panache. The book is not without merit, but I would have a hard time resolutely recommending it.
on December 4, 2014
I wasn't going to review this until the I learned that the author had a hissy fit on Twitter because the New York Times didn't include her book in the list of 100 Notable Books of 2014. Somewhere, there is a lovingly-crafted tiny violin wailing out a plaintive song as the cosmic heart of the universe bleeds in sympathy....
Ah well. I'll make my judgement based on that. This isn't a good book at all. It's called "Love and Treasure" for a start, which is a really crap title. And it is the zillionth book about the Holocaust, the gift that never stops giving for writers looking to shift books by the barrowload, elbowing memoirs like "If This Is A Man" off the shelves. In fact, the only good thing about the book, is the ending, because it ends.