Sunday, February 18, 2018

Love & Treasure: Ayelet Waldman

This is a story about World War II, its aftermath, the Holocaust, displaced persons in camps, and the looting of the belongings of Jewish families.The story begins with a Prologue set in 2013 when Jack Wiseman is dying. He passes a pendant that he took from the Gold Train collection on to his granddaughter, with a request to return it to its rightful owner. What follows is essentially three linked novellas, each a self-contained story, depicting some events related to the pendant.

The first section follows Jack in Salzberg as he is assigned to catalog and guard the items that arrived on the Hungarian Gold Train. He meets and falls in love with Ilona, a Hungarian refugee and survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau. During his assignment in Salzburg, Jack wrestles with the dilemma between his duty to the US Army and his belief that the items on the train that were taken from Jewish families should be returned to the rightful owners. The middle section features Jack's granddaughter, Natalie, as she works with Amitai, an art dealer who recovers lost World War II art pieces, to determine the provenance of the pendant. The last section is the most bizarre, but also the most entertaining and disturbing. Set in 1913 in Budapest and told from a psychoanalyst's point of view, we see the early history of the pendant. That section is especially interesting because it focuses on two young women of the time who are interested in having careers, and also are working towards women's suffrage.

There are so many things I liked about this book. First of all, the writing. Without good writing, the experience might be educational but boring. The story itself is told beautifully, and the characters in each section are fully developed and I cared about them.

I like the structure of the book. By dividing the book into three distinct stories, each provided some illumination of different topics related to Jewish life and anti-semitism over the course of 100 years. Although my favorite section dealt with Jack and the aftermath of the war in Europe, the other two sections expanded on the themes and gave the story more depth. There are no tidy endings here, and I liked that too.

I learned so much about World War II and its aftermath without it feeling at all like a history lesson. I have read The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, but the focus of that book is on art treasures that were saved, and this book focuses on the everyday belongings (watches, jewelry, silverware, china) that were confiscated by the Hungarian government from Jewish families. I had known nothing of the Hungarian Gold Train until I read this book. Plus the section set in the early 1900s was especially interesting, a time period I have read little about.

Other resources:


Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
Length:       331 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Settings:     First part in Salzburg, Austria; 2nd and 3rd parts mainly in
                   Budapest, Hungary. Also some of the 2nd part was in Israel.
Genre:        Historical fiction
Source:       I purchased my copy. On my TBR pile since 2014.


  1. This does sound really interesting, Tracy. And sometimes, stories are best told in different parts, as this one is. Fascinating how the pendant holds it all together...

    1. Another book I wish I had not waited so long to read, Margot.

  2. Sounds good, but again not enough time (or money) to read everything I like the sound of.

    1. It is good, Col, but I sympathize. I am still buying too many books but not all of the ones I own are going to get read. I just can't stop.

  3. Thanks for the shoutout, and so glad you liked it too! I was just thinking about it in fact - the feast of Purim has just happened, and it features in the book, and is the aspect I picked out for my blogpost. The children dressed up in their costumes - I found pictures from 1933, there they are all excited and then you think about the next 15years...
    it is always good to keep the history alive, and I most certainly learned a lot from the book.

    1. Moira, I thought of you when I read the section of the book about Purim. I like this book even better a couple of weeks after reading it. I would have loved to have three books about these people instead of it being all combined into one book.