Love and Treasure

Love and Treasure

by Ayelet Waldman

Overview: A spellbinding new novel of contraband masterpieces, tragic love, and the unexpected legacies of forgotten crimes, Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure weaves a tale around the fascinating, true history of the Hungarian Gold Train in the Second World War.

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.

A story of brilliantly drawn characters—a suave and shady art historian, a delusive and infatuated Freudian, a family of singing circus dwarfs fallen into the clutches of Josef Mengele, and desperate lovers facing choices that will tear them apart—Love and Treasure is Ayelet Waldman’s finest novel to date: a sad, funny, richly detailed work that poses hard questions about the value of precious things in a time when life itself has no value, and about the slenderest of chains that can bind us to the griefs and passions of the past.

Gail Reid (04/23/15): I agree with the other reviews that the story is a good one, particularly if you have not heard of the "gold train" and the stolen possessions of the Hungarian Jews in World War II. One of the intrinsic values of Holocaust fiction is the introduction of elements of World War II history that have been buried.

This 3-part novel which includes a World War II love story, a modern day romance, and both the women's suffrage movement and psychiatry in Budapest at the turn of the century is ambitious but it is sometimes confusing and strays from the original plot.
Rating: ***

Faith Bowers (04/22/15): I read this book a while ago and agree with Debbie's well written review. It had such potential and just followed three story lines with no minimal character development. It was an easy read and has historical significance.
Rating: ***

Debbie Weiss (04/15/15): The historical story behind this book is extremely interesting --- The Hungarian Gold Train --- a train captured by American soldiers during WWII, filled with jewelry and family heirlooms stolen from Jewish families. I had never heard about the story about this train before. It is common knowledge, apparently, that many of these valuables were "borrowed" by military personnel never to be returned to the train's inventory. Most of these items were eventually sold at auction, and not returned to their rightful owners, most of whom perished during the holocaust.

Jack Wiseman was an American soldier assigned the responsibility of taking a detailed inventory of the merchandise on this train. He took this responsibility very seriously, naively believing that the goods would eventually be returned to their rightful owners. The story is told in three phases, each of which occurs many years apart, centering around a necklace absconded from the train and the search for the family of the original owner many years later.

The characters just didn't connect with me. They seemed one-dimensional and contrived. I expected more from a book with such potential.
Rating: ***

Judy Stanton (04/05/15): When you've read so many stories emanating from the Holocaust, undertaking to read another, at least for me, requires that the story have a new twist, a different angle, something unique and interesting. With Ayelet Waldman's book, that something was the history of the Hungarian Gold Train. I like the way the author chose a single object - the pendant - to bring together the array of interesting characters whose lives were touched by it in this work of historical fiction. Her story also raises interesting moral issues -- different types of "stealing" -- the issue of all the items stolen from Holocaust victims -- art, jewelry, and other valuables - and how it led to further abuses, greed and schemes. While I enjoyed the book, and its characters, I didn't find it to be a compelling read. 3+

Rating: ***+

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