Love and Treasureby Ayelet Waldman
In 1945 on the outskirts of Salzburg, victorious American soldiers/i>
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 eBook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
This lush, multigenerational tale by Waldman (Bad Mother) of loves lost and found begins at a portentous historical starting point: the so-called Hungarian Gold Train. Waldman traces the path of a single pendant taken from this notorious shipment of Nazi-confiscated treasures, which the U.S. seized at the end of WWII but largely failed to return to the original owners, many of them Hungarian Jews. The pendant’s decoration, an enameled peacock, is a symbol of bad fortune, boding ill for the young U.S. Army lieutenant, Jack Wiseman, who takes it from the Gold Train in 1945. In the present, he passes the pendant on to his unlucky-in-love granddaughter, Natalie, imploring her to return it to its rightful owner. With that request, the narrative leaps back in time, showing Jack’s doomed romance with Ilona, a Holocaust survivor, and the life-changing early-20th-century friendship between pioneering female medical student Nina and dwarf suffragette Gizella Weisz. It also focuses on present-day Syrian-Jewish art dealer Amitai Shasho’s attempts to come to grips with his past. Inventively told from multiple perspectives, Waldman’s latest is a seductive reflection on just how complicated the idea of “home” is—and why it is worth more than treasure. Agent: Mary Evans, Mary Evans Inc. (Apr.)
"Love and Treasure places the Hungarian Gold Train at the heart of a multigenerational tale. . . Crucial to its plot is an enameled pendant, intricately worked in the design of a peacock, unusually colored in purple, white and green. Waldman skillfully interweaves this striking and enigmatic objecta symbol, as the book progresses, of fatal bad luckinto an ambitious sweep of history, setting the loss of millions of human lives against the pendant's own poignant, improbably survival. . . In the novel's final, twisty section, Waldman has great fun with the narrative of a pompous, libidinous psychoanalyst in seemingly idyllic, assimilated, pre-World War I Budapest. . . Waldman sustains her multiple plot lines with breathless confidence and descriptive panache, fashioning complex personalities caught up in an inexorable series of events. . . Powerful."
—Catherine Taylor, The New York Times Book Review
"Waldman is a wonderfully imaginative writer . . . absorbing . . . As with the painting in Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue and the manuscript in Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book the link between these separate stories in Love and Treasure is a pendant decorated with the picture of a peacock. In Waldman’s exceedingly clever treatment, this piece of jewelry is not intrinsically valuable; it accrues value only as it passes from one unlikely hand to another, demonstrating the curious and tragic ways that history binds us together. . . a tense and romantic story that never seems polemical or overdetermined. . . a marvelous panorama of early 20th-century attitudes about women . . . Moving."
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"What ethics govern the custodians of property that can never be returned? How do the personal and the political intertwine in the wake of historical tragedy? These questions permeate the novel . . . Charming . . . The failings of the characters imbues them with a fuller and more complex humanity . . . the book’s best moments explore subtle ambiguities. . . the human stories behind the looted objects flicker into life."
—Nick Romeo, The Boston Globe
"A cohesive and engaging narrative . . . lively, compassionate characterizations . . . brimming with passion . . . Waldman reaches thoughtfully into an epic sweep of complex issues related to identity, home, dislocation and feminism, and illuminates her ideas through the critical junctures of the journeys of both the pendant and the painting. In the end, as readers, we gain a deeper understanding of what it means to covet and what it means to love."
—S. Kirk Walsh, San Francisco Chronicle
"Like a set of Russian nesting dolls, Ayelet Waldman's historically resonant new novel offers stories within stories, spanning a century of European wars and social movements, (mostly) ill-starred relationships, and the ambiguous aftermath of these upheavals. . . Something of a page-turner, Love and Treasure dares to throw readers off balance and keep them searching for resolution . . . Like the diary of Anne Frank, or the pile of shoes without owners in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, it stands for nothing less than the loss of an entire world."
—Julia M. Klein, Chicago Tribune
"In Ayelet Waldman's thoughtful, expansive Love and Treasure, American soldiers occupying Austria after World War II discover an immense freight train full of personal effects pillaged from Hungarian Jews . . . Absorbing . . . The pendant's crooked passage across the century serves as a connecting device, holding the book's elegantly balanced parts together like the wire in a Calder mobile. In the end, Love and Treasure is less concerned with belongings than with belonging—with the Jewish people's ongoing hunt for community and homeland, and what one character calls 'a sense of loyalty and identity.' Those things, once stolen, are much harder to get back."
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Absorbing . . . A compelling meditation on love, missed connections and the pull of history on the present. . . well-written and entertaining."
—Kevin Nance, USA TODAY
"Heartfelt . . . Waldman’s evocation of Budapest is evocative and enthralling."
—Brigette Frase, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Ambitious . . . The eternal human struggle for self-determination and dignity pulses throughout."
—Robin Micheli, People Magazine
"Love and Treasure, the new novel by Ayelet Waldman, couldn’t be more timely. . . Waldman builds her narrative, which moves between three distinct stories and time periods, around one of the most notorious cases of property theft in WWII. . . It is a story ripe for retelling . . . Love and Treasure offers not just one romance, but two—one tragic, one comic. . . Drawing on what was clearly extensive research, Waldman brings to life the world of the Central European Jewish haute bourgeoisie, reveling in its textures, exposing its hypocrisies, and cheering on the incipient feminism that Nina represents. . . [A] fantasia on historical themes."
— Adam Kirsch, Tablet Magazine
"Classic perfection . . . heartwarming and inspiring. . . interesting and educational, informing the reader about little-known segments of history through the eyes of well-drawn, credible, and sympathetic characters. The narrative progresses in a quiet, steady suspense of human drama without any melodramatic action. One never knows what turning the page will bring. Highly recommended."
— Carolyn Haley, New York Journal of Books
"A deft feat . . . conveys the scope of the tragedy as well as the richness of Hungarian Jewish history . . . Her best work."
— Sue Barnett, J Weekly
"Her most absorbing and ambitious work yet. . . Throughout this rich and affecting novel, Waldman explores questions of identityhow it is shaped and defined, and by whom. She also fearlessly investigates the complicated and tragic history of European Jews in the years before and after World War II, framing the issue through questions of belonging and possessionof oneself, of one's things, and of one's home. Love and Treasure is romantic, provocative and ripe for discussiona historical novel that is as timely and relevant as ever"
— The Book Reporter
"Divorced, unemployed, and listless, Natalie Stein goes on a wild-goose chase to find the rightful heir of a WWII relic . . . This screams big-screen adaptation: Natalie Portman as Natalie Stein, perhaps?"
—What To Read Now, Marie Claire
"Ambitious... Like the necklace that Jack hands to Natalie in the book's first pages, Love and Treasure is exquisitely crafted and filled with secrets."
—Georgia Rowe, San Jose Mercury News
"Love and Treasure is a well-researched tale that unfolds in three intertwining stories set in 1913 Budapest, post-World War II Austria, and present-day Maine. . . Waldman, a student of the Holocaust and its aftermath, draws from historical fact to create these multigenerational tales that reveal clues to the reader the way a locket exposes a hidden image. With Love and Treasure, she has carefully crafted a work that measures memory against oblivion, value against wealth, and legacy against possession."
—Abbe Wright, O Magazine
"Nazi gold, a coveted jeweled pendant and a web of intrigue that spans the globe and generations — Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure embodies the staples of a timeless adventure narrative. . . Waldman skillfully crafts her story in three threads before, during and after the war, each awash in the poignancy of loss that grew out of the Holocaust. Love and Treasure invests in deeply complex characters, all searching to uncover a shared history connected by WWII. . . An exhilarating read that is as thoughtful as it is provocative."
—Mitch Sawyer, Vox Magazine
"When a necklace with a peacock pendant – confiscated along with other treasures from Hungary's Jews – is found in Austria in 1945 by Jack Wiseman, a young Jewish lieutenant in the US Army, he gives it to the Holocaust survivor with whom he has fallen in love. But their love affair does not endure and the pendant eventually comes back to Jack. In 2013, in his final days, Jack asks his granddaughter Natalie to return the piece of jewelry he took so long ago. But how and to whom? Waldman's novel skips continents and generations, telling a multi-layered and well-constructed story."
—10 Best Books of April, Christian Science Monitor
"If the riveting history around which Ayelet Waldman’s new novel is weaved doesn’t draw you in, the characters that infuse it certainly will. Vividly crafted and full of intriguing complexity, Waldam’s characters — a seedy art historian, a clan of entrapped circus dwarfs, a beautiful Hungarian Holocaust survivor, and a vivacious young American army lieutenant among them — breathe life into a story of art, war, stolen treasures, forgotten crimes and star-crossed love, a story that sets off during WWII along the Hungarian Gold Train and spans across decades, cultures, and generations. Skillfully crafted and told from multiple perspectives within a narrative that telescopes through time, Love and Treasure tells a captivating story about treasure lost and found and calls us to reevaluate what it is that we treasure most."
—Morgan Ribera, Bustle Magazine
“Waldman has written a sweeping romantic novel of overlapping generations, crossed continents and wartime echoes—a drenched, tragic love story rooted in one of our darkest moments of history, the Holocaust. Transported by cinematic dialogue, readers will sink into Waldman’s rich descriptions as she zigzags among characters who are united by a mysterious stolen treasure.”
—Susanna Sonnenberg, MORE Magazine
"In 1945, an American soldier falls in love with a Holocaust survivor he meets on a train in Austria. She decides to forsake him to build a life in Palestine. He is left only with a necklace. On his deathbed in 2013, he charges his daughter, Natalie, with returning it to its owner. What follows is a complicated and involving story of the lives behind possessions stolen by the Nazis."
—The New York Daily News
"Inspired by the true story of World War II's 'Hungarian Gold Train,' the tale set in present-day New York centers on a woman uncovering the truth about what her grandfather did as an American soldier in the war. . . [For] fans of The Goldfinch, treasure hunts and the work of Waldman's husband, Michael Chabon."
—Spring Books Preview: 10 Titles to Read, The Hollywood Reporter
"This lush, multigenerational tale... traces the path of a single pendant.... Inventively told from multiple perspectives, Waldman's latest is a seductive reflection on just how complicated the idea of 'home' isand why it is worth more than treasure."
“A sensitive and heartbreaking portrayal of love, politics, and family secrets . . . Waldman's appealing novel recalls the film The Red Violin in its following of this all-important object through various periods in history and through many owners. Fans of historical fiction will love the compelling characters and the leaps backward and forward in time.”
—Mariel Pachucki, Library Journal
“One is quickly caught up in Love and Treasure with its shifting tones and voices—at times a document, a thriller, a love story, a search—telescoping time backwards and forwards to vividly depict a story found in the preludes and then the after-effects of the Holocaust. Waldman gives us remarkable characters in a time of complex and surprising politics."
“Love and Treasure is something of a treasure trove of a novel. Its beautifully integrated parts fit inside one another like the talismanic pendant/ locket at the heart of several love stories. Where the opening chapters evoke the nightmare of Europe in the aftermath of World War II with the hallucinatory vividness of Anselm Kiefer's disturbing canvases, the concluding chapters, set decades before, in a more seemingly innocent time in the early 20th century, are a bittersweet evocation, in miniature, of thwarted personal destinies that yet yield to something like cultural triumph. Ayelet Waldman is not afraid to create characters for whom we feel an urgency of emotion, and she does not resolve what is unresolvable in this ambitious, absorbing and poignantly moving work of fiction."
—Joyce Carol Oates
“Love and Treasure is like the treasure train it chases: fast-paced, bound by a fierce mission, full of bright secrets and racingly, relentlessly moving.”
"Complex and thoughtful, moving and carefully researched, this is a novel to love and treasure."
Lt. Jack Wiseman is tasked with guarding a train waylaid by Allied soldiers outside of Salzburg, its cargo including purloined jewelry, fur coats, and Shabbat candlesticks. Then he meets the fiercely determined Ilona, a Hungarian Jew. Seventy years later, Jack gives his granddaughter a necklace and asks her to track down the woman whose portrait it holds. An ambitious breakout novel from the author of Red Hook Road.
A necklace with a peacock pendant raises provocative questions about loss, guilt and recovery in Waldman's intriguing new novel (Red Hook Road, 2010, etc.). The necklace is one of thousands of items confiscated from Hungary's Jews and found on a train seized in Austria by the U.S. Army in 1945. Assigned to guard the train, Lt. Jack Wiseman falls in love with Ilona, a Holocaust survivor. When she leaves him for a new life in Palestine, the devastated Jack takes the necklace as a memento. In 2013, dying of pancreatic cancer, he asks his granddaughter Natalie to return it. But to whom? She learns in Budapest that the necklace was depicted in Portrait of Frau E, a lost painting by a Hungarian Jewish artist who died during World War II. Amitai, an Israeli-born specialist in the recovery of art stolen during the Holocaust, persuades Natalie to join his search for Portrait of Frau E in hopes of identifying the necklace's rightful owner. Painting and necklace both wind up in unexpected hands, and the narrative rolls back to trace the history of "Frau E." Her maiden name is Nina Schillinger, and in 1913 she is a 19-year-old feminist whose desire to study medicine has prompted her appalled parents to send her to a psychoanalyst. (His account of their sessions provides a wickedly funny satire of sexist, sex-obsessed Freudian analysis.) Waldman paints morally complex portraits in her three linked stories. Jack's superiors blithely furnish their quarters with tableware and crystal from the Hungarian train; the appealing Amitai retrieves looted art for profit; Budapest's prewar Jewish bourgeoisie places crippling constraints on its daughters. Yet all three stories also show love prompting people to transcend their limitations and behave with new compassion, though Waldman is too honest not to acknowledge that it's not always easy to do the right thing—or even to know what that is. No big points made here, just strong storytelling combined with thoughtful exploration of difficult issues.
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Excerpted from the Hardcover Edition
• 1 •
they found the train parked on an open spur not far from the station at Werfen. When they pulled up to the siding in their jeeps, Captain Rigsdale jumped out with a show of alacrity, but Jack hung back, eyeing the train. More than forty wagons, both passenger and freight. The nature of the cargo was as yet undetermined, but in this green and mountainous corner of the American Zone, a string of boxcars was never something Jack felt eager to explore.
Fencing the train were enemy troops uniformed in ragged khaki. They carried fég 35m rifles, but they had flagged their right sleeves with strips torn from white bedsheets, and they displayed no apparent satisfaction with their prize. By the side of the rails, a woman crouched over a wooden bucket filled with soapy water, wringing out a length of white cotton shirting. Two small boys took turns leaping from the door of one of the passenger cars, marking the lengths of their jumps with pebbles and bickering over who had leaped farther. They spoke a language unknown to Jack, but he assumed, based on what Rigsdale had told him, that it was Hungarian.
“Come on, Wiseman,” Rigsdale called over his shoulder. “You’re supposed to be fluent in gibberish.”
Jack climbed down from the jeep and followed Rigsdale toward the train. He had never worked for this particular captain before, but by now he was used to receiving sudden assignments to the command of senior officers tasked with undertaking excursions into obscure and doubtful backwaters of the Occupied Zone. Jack had a gift for topography and a photographic memory for maps. He had a feel for landscape and a true inner compass, and in his imagination the most cursory and vague of descriptions, a two-dimensional scrawl on a scrap of paper, took on depth and accuracy. This aptitude, which in civilian life had meant little more than always knowing whether he was facing uptown or downtown when he came up out of the subway, had found its perfect application in the war. Even during the confusion of battle, command had always been able to rely on Wiseman’s company to be where it was supposed to be and, even more important, to be moving in the right direction, something not always true of the rest of the division. This spatial acuity, along with his fluency in German, French, Italian, and (less usefully) Latin and ancient Greek, kept him in demand with the brass, who contended among themselves to have him attached to their commands.
“What’re they saying?” Rigsdale said.
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Well, figure it out, goddamn it.”
One of the enemy soldiers ducked back into the passenger car from which the boys were leaping. Jack lifted his rifle. A moment later, a portly little man in a gray suit, complete with vest and watch fob, emerged from the same carriage and stepped down, wiping his mouth with a handkerchief, still chewing a mouthful of something. Like the guards, he had tied a scrap of white fabric around his upper arm.
The man hurried over to the half-dozen American soldiers standing by their two jeeps, his expression at once servile and calculating, as if they were potential customers of undetermined means. He extended his hand to shake Captain Rigsdale’s, seemed to think the better of it, and instead gave him a crisp, theatrical salute.
Rigsdale kept his own hands tucked by the thumbs into the webbed belt at his hips.
“Captain John F. Rigsdale, U.S. Army, Forty-Second Division. You the conductor of this choo-choo?”
The man shook his head, frowning. “No English. Deutsch? Français?”
“Go ahead, Lieutenant,” Rigsdale said, motioning Jack forward.
“Deutsch,” Jack said.
The man’s German was fluent, although the Hungarian accent made the language sound softer, mellifluous, the r’s rolled on the tongue rather than the back of the throat, the emphasis placed on the beginning of the words. Jack’s accent had its own peculiarities. Beneath the elegant High German cultivated by the Berliner refugee who had taught his German classes at Columbia University, Jack spoke with a touch of the Galicianer Yiddish of his maternal grandparents. His father’s parents, of authentic German Jewish stock, had never to his knowledge uttered a word in that language.
“His name is Avar László,” Jack told Rigsdale. “He’s in charge of the train.”
“Ask him if he’s a military officer, and if so why he’s not in uniform.”
He was, Avar said, a civil servant, the former mayor of the town of Zenta, currently working for something he called the Property Office.
“Ask Mr. László why the hell his men haven’t turned their arms over to the U.S. government,” Rigsdale said.
“Avar,” the Hungarian said in German. “My surname is Avar. Dr. Avar. László is my first name.”
Jack asked Dr. Avar if he was aware that the terms of surrender required that enemy soldiers turn over their weapons.
Avar said that he was aware of the order, but regrettably the guns were necessary to protect the train’s cargo. He said his men had been fighting off looters since the train’s departure from Hungary. In May they’d been in a shoot-out with a group of German soldiers, and recently they’d been dealing with increasing problems from the local population, whose greed was inflamed by rumors of what was held in the wagons.
“Tell him I’m deeply sorry to hear how hard his life has been lately and that the U.S. Army is here to unburden him of all his sorrows,” Captain Rigsdale said. “And his guns, too.”
By now a small group of civilians had descended from the passenger carriages. One of them stepped forward and conferred with Avar, who nodded vigorously.
Jack translated. “They want us to know that nobody’s given them any provisions. Avar says they’ve been starving.” Jack looked doubtfully at the vigorous guards, the men in their neat suits, the plump-cheeked children. “Starving,” he supposed, was a relative term.
The captain said, “Tell him they’ll all be fed once they get to the DP camps. Now I want to have a look inside the cars. See what all the fuss is about.”
Avar led them to the first of the cargo wagons, its doors officially sealed with bureaucratic wallpaper bearing an elaborate pattern of stamps and insignia. Jack looked down the row of boxcars. Some of the seals along the train remained intact. Others looked tattered, torn away. What that proved or didn’t prove, he wasn’t sure. There was no way of knowing whether the seals had been put there six months or six hours before.
At the door of the first cargo wagon, Avar hesitated. He conferred in Hungarian with one of his colleagues, a lanky, elderly gentleman with extravagant mustaches waxed to points, before making his wishes known to Jack.
“What now?” Rigsdale said.
“He’s asking for a receipt.”
“The fuck he is.”
“To show that we assume protection of this property on behalf of the Hungarian government.”
Avar didn’t need Jack to translate the look on the captain’s face. Puffing up his chest, the little man asked Jack to remind his commanding officer that the cargo of the train was Hungarian state property, and therefore he, Avar, with all due respect, could only turn over the custody of said cargo if assurances were made that it would, in due time, be returned to the government of Hungary.
“Lieutenant, please remind Mr. Avar that the government of Hungary just got its ass handed to it, and suggest to him, if you would be so kind, that he, his men, and his whole damn country are now under the authority of the Allied forces. I am not going to give him a goddamn receipt, and he should please open this motherfucking door now, before I use his fat head as a battering ram.”
In as formal a German as he could muster, Jack said, “Captain Rigsdale reminds you that he speaks with the full authority of the United States Army, and requests that you delay opening the boxcar no longer.”
Avar glanced at his guards, and Jack silently cursed the military command that had sent six men to disarm sixty. Though he never made vocal his disapproval, he had learned by hard experience that a soldier rarely lost money betting against the wisdom of his superior officers. The institutionalized idiocy was one of the many reasons that for nearly all of the past year and a half since his enlistment Jack had hated the war, hated the army, hated even the civilians who all too often seemed to despise their American liberators far more than they had their German conquerors. The only people he didn’t hate were the men with whom he served in the 222nd Battalion of the 42nd Infantry, the Rainbow Division, none of whom he’d known for longer than a year and all of whom he loved with a devotion he had never felt before for anyone, not even the girlfriend who had predictably broken his heart in a letter a mere three weeks after he received his commission. He was especially fond of the men of H Company, whose dwindling ranks he had led on a relentless slog through the torn-up landscape, through France and across the Siegfried line until they reached Fürth, where the battalion commanding officer, after a grueling exchange with a recalcitrant local farmer, had decided that he needed the assistance of an aide conversant in German and transferred Jack away from the men who were all that he cared about in this miserable war. His many attempts to return to his company defeated, Jack was left stewing in his loathing and waiting to earn enough points for a discharge. Even considering the battle decorations he’d received at a recent cluster muster, he was three points shy of the eighty-five he needed to be sent home. Best possible outcome, eighty-two points put him in Salzburg for three more months. Worst possible, he was heading to the Pacific.
The Hungarian having failed to respond to his order, Jack repeated, “Please open the boxcars.”
Across Avar’s face seemed to pass the entire history of his benighted people in this interminable war: pride, belligerence, bravado, defensiveness, anxiety, despair. And, finally, resignation. He removed a large iron key from the inside breast pocket of his suit jacket, inserted it into the heavy padlock, and, with a grunt, sprung the lock. When he pushed the door back, the seals tore with a pop like the bursting of an inflated paper bag. The door rumbled open on its runners.
The boxcar was heaped with wooden cases and crates. Some of the cases had iron hinges and clasps; others were nailed shut. Toward the back of the car they stood in orderly stacks, but many of those nearest the door had been pried open and were piled haphazardly one upon the other.
“Pull a couple of those over here, Lieutenant,” Rigsdale said. “Let’s see what we’re dealing with.”
Jack climbed up into the car and dragged over an open crate. He dug through the straw and pulled out a teacup decorated with a pink rose and a scattering of green leaves. The gilt-edged handle came off in his hand.
“Vorsicht!” Avar said.
Jack gave a meaningful glance at the jumble of open boxes. No one else had bothered to take the care that Avar seemed to expect of him.
“Try another crate,” the captain said.
The next crate contained a pile of expensive-looking camera equipment, none of it padded with straw or excelsior. Some of the lenses were cracked. What, Jack wondered, were these Hungarians doing riding around the Austrian countryside with a trainload of household goods?
Captain Rigsdale ordered Avar to open another boxcar. This one contained rolls of carpets. Most were stacked neatly, but someone had been pilfering those nearest to the door; smaller carpets had been unrolled and draped over the piles, and there were muddy boot tracks everywhere.
“Looters,” Avar said.
“After the treasure,” Captain Rigsdale said after Jack had translated. “All this must have been on its way to the Alpenfestung.”
Among the strange ideas held in common both by the Allies and the defeated German troops was the chimera that, hidden in the mountains of southern Bavaria, defended by one hundred thousand SS officers, the Nazis had erected a final stronghold. Although there was no more evidence for the existence of this national redoubt than there was for that of the city of Atlantis or the valley of Shangri-la, everyone on both sides seemed to be sure that it was there, hovering high above them, a Valhalla for the desperate Germans and an anxiety dream for the Allies, many of whom had a hard time accepting that their mythic Teutonic-warrior opponents had not fought to the end predicted by their death’s-head insignia.
“Strange kind of treasure,” Jack said, holding up a crystal liqueur glass. “Sir, this doesn’t look like bank assets. It just seems to be a lot of, well, stuff.”
“Let’s keep looking,” Rigsdale said.
Avar led them through the train, a car at a time. He showed them crude pine crates of bed linens and fur coats, cases of men’s pocket and wrist watches, of women’s jewelry. Jack opened up a box full of evening purses, most of them beaded or decorated with silver chains. Another of silver sugar basins, silver teapots engraved with monograms, bronze statuettes of men on horseback. In some cars they found heaps of leather wallets alongside silver cigarette cases, heavy musty-smelling furs piled on top of brightly colored Oriental carpets, tangles of costume jewelry, paintings of all sizes stacked one upon the other. The contents of other cars had been painstakingly sorted, the radios neatly loaded into wooden crates, the silver candlesticks separated from the vases, the sets of china plates and porcelain platters carefully packed.
In the fifth car, Avar opened an unlocked small wooden casket with brass hinges. It was full to the brim with small misshapen loaves of gold and gold coins stamped with mysterious insignia. This indeed was treasure, like a child’s imaginary pirate’s trove, lustrous in the sunlight.
“You see?” Avar said in German. “Untouched since we left Brennbergbánya.”
“Where is Brennbergbánya?” Jack asked. “Is that where you came from?”
“This train was loaded in Brennbergbánya. Before that we did the sorting and organizing in the Óbánya Castle in Zirc. Before that most items were stored in the warehouses of the Postal Savings Bank.”
“But who does it belong to?”
One of Avar’s companions said something in Hungarian.
Avar said, “All property belongs to the people of Hungary. It must be returned to the people of Hungary.”
When Jack translated this, Rigsdale said, “Tell him the American government is not in the business of stealing anybody’s property.” Rigsdale pointed at the small casket. “Is this all the gold?” he asked.
There was more gold, Avar told them, but they had distributed it throughout the train to make it more difficult for looters to find. There was also a small number of precious gems. Avar had done his best to protect the most valuable property, but there had, as he’d said, been looters. And also government officials had removed much of it.
“U.S. government?” Rigsdale asked.
Meet the Author
Ayelet Waldman is the author of the novels Red Hook Road, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, and Daughter’s Keeper, as well as of the essay collection Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace and the Mommy-Track Mystery series. She lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband and four children.
From the Hardcover edition.
- Berkeley, California
- Date of Birth:
- December 11, 1964
- Place of Birth:
- Jerusalem, Israel
- Wesleyan University, 1986; Harvard Law School, 1991
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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The book started out beautifully. The post-WWII story of Jack and his love for concentration camp survivor Ilona was captivating,, but when Waldman took the story to a present-day format I completely lost interest. The author got lost in overly wordy sentences and endless paragraphs. Too many characters took focus away from the main story line. So although I enjoyed the first half, the second half of this book was a failure.
Copy received from Historical Fiction Virtual Tours for an honest review I really enjoyed this beautiful novel. The first couple of pages I wasn't sure where the author was going to go with the story and it didn't seem to match the description of the book. But as the story progressed everything started to beautifully fall into place. One of the key elements of this story is the sense of history and family story that is told. Although this found treasure also plays an important role, the heart and soul of the story was the family history. Many stories have been written about the Holocaust, and I think rightly so, but this had some elements that made it very individualistic. Jack and his grandaughter have a very beautiful relationship. I thought that their personal situations in life actually complemented each other. Without giving too much away, I love that Jack was able to finally see his real treasure. This was a very beautiful and very powerful book! Bravo Ms Waldman
Waldman's mind is intelligent and moving. Thus goes this terrific novel, broken into three sections, that revolves around the individuals whose lives are changed relative to a fascinating locket. Throughout the story, the history of this remarkable piece of jewelry initially found as part of a massive (a trainload) collection of household items stolen by the Nazis from Hungarian Jews is revealed. But those who possess it, whether the World War II American soldier assigned to manage the train's contents after the War, his granddaughter assigned to find an original owner (or someone connected to that person), or the two women pre-World War I whose ambitions and revolutionary lives started the saga, have much to share. I loved the history in the first section - the Gold Train and its hero; I was intrigued by the second section, in which an art dealer and an American woman try to uncover the history of the locket and return it to someone to whom it rightfully belongs falling in love along the way and my heart was broken in the third section -- the story of two young women who are fighting to get out of the constraint of their overly ruled lives. The unreliable narrator of the third section was a little off-putting for most of the story, but he does redeem himself at the end.
One of the most amazing tales of the aftermath of WW2. Great characters, beautiful description of the towns and people trying to recover from the war, from the lack of food, medicine and communication. For anyone who is of German, Austrian or Hungarian heritage, this book is a real gem.
I really enjoyed the book although I felt that the narrator (a psychiatrist) hired to "cure" one of the heroines) was off-putting and I felt irritated with him most of the time. He finally softens in the end. I began to think that perhaps he was being sarcastic and that he really sympathized with Nina. I would recommend this book as a different take on events that happened during the holocaust.
A story in search of a good writer.