Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Blog Tour Review: Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman

Love and Treasure
Ayelet Waldman
April 2014
Two Roads

Every so often a book comes along that shatters all the expectations piled upon it. Love and Treasure is one such book. I tend to be quite harsh in my initial impressions (of anything, not just books), which always makes it such a rewarding and satisfying experience when my impressions are shown to be entirely ridiculous. For a moment I had some rather deprecatory first impressions of Love and Treasure (can you judge a book by its title?), but Waldman basically wipes the floor with those less than fair initial thoughts. In a roundabout way I'm saying that I did not have high hopes for this novel, but you really should.


'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.'


This novel is split into three parts - Jack Wiseman's narrative, Natalie Stein's narrative and Dr Zobel's narrative. Sweeping across the decades from 1945 to 2013 and back to 1913, this is a novel of epic proportions but one that is written so that each minute detail has its place. Each narrative links in subtle and obvious ways and the prologue (set in 2013) introduces the main themes that will be woven throughout - Jewish identity, the aftermath of the Holocaust, family, love and, indeed, treasure. 

I'm a sucker for a shifting narrative voice anyway, but Waldman has a rare talent for carving distinct and memorable voices. Out of the three Dr Zobel particularly stands out for me. A Freudian psychotherapist who is far too eager to diagnose his patient with hysteria as a result of excessive masterbation. Ah yes, no aspect of Freud is left out here. His narrative is full of wry humour and a few almost tongue in cheek moments (that would be tongue in cheek were they not entirely based on the way things were in 1913). Alongside the entertainment factor of his narrative is the educational element. In fact this educational element is present throughout the novel. Waldman has done her research and it comes across brilliantly. It's not laid on with a shovel but rather used to add authenticity to the story. For example, in a session Nina and Dr Zobel discuss Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. Not only is this a nod to the parallels between Perkins Gilman's heroine and our heroine, it also reflects what a modern young woman interested in women's rights and disinterested in marriage may have been reading in 1913.

Aside from the overall label of historical fiction, it is difficult to pin down what genre this novel fits in to. In reality it doesn't fit seamlessly into any category. It is part thriller, part romance, part history book and part quest all wrapped up into a 400 page bundle of emotions and intellectual questioning. 

The Hungarian Gold Train that is really the focal point around which the action of the novel revolves, is fascinating stuff. I'd never heard of it and never questioned what the Nazi's actually did with all the stuff they nicked. If you're interested in the Holocaust, particularly the aftermath, then this is a novel for you. Some of the questions Waldman raises surrounding the exodus of many Jews to Palestine are the sort that will have you mulling over the rights and wrongs of life for days. At times it threatens to become just that bit too deep and political, but each time we're brought back into the story in time for those elements to leave a lasting impact without undermining the power of the story itself.

The intricacies of this novel make it a difficult one to review so I'll just say this: read it. As I was, you will be blown away by the detail, the characters, the moral ambiguities and the historical significance wrapped into the pages of Love and Treasure. This is historical fiction at its best as the history guides it, but the characters make it.

Is the Hungarian Gold Train new ground for you? Would it be something you would be interested to read about?

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About the Author
Ayelet Waldman is the author of the newly released Love and Treasure (Knopf, January 2014), Red Hook Road and The New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was made into a film starring Natalie Portman. Her personal essays and profiles of such public figures as Hillary Clinton have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Vogue, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her radio commentaries have appeared on “All Things Considered” and “The California Report.”

For more information please visit Ayelet’s website. Her missives also appear on Facebook and Twitter.

Her books are published throughout the world, in countries as disparate as England and Thailand, the Netherlands and China, Russia and Israel, Korea and Italy.

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  1. Interesting post re Love and Treasure. Thank you!

  2. Great commentary and review of this one Ellie, really thoughtful, I loved it too.


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