Sunday, 15 February 2015

Review: 'Love and Treasure' by Ayelet Waldman

I requested this novel off Netgalley because I thought the cover looked absolutely stunning and the synopsis promised a lot of good things to come. I am so glad I did request it because Waldman's novel had me absolutely spell-bound.

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (USA) / Two Roads (UK)
Pub. Date: 04/09/2014
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.
Waldman's narrative in Love and Treasure is one that is absolutely fascinating. She weaves together the stories of a number of different characters who are all somehow related, despite living in different centuries. The actions of one character impact the others and yet it takes you till the end of the novel to figure out how all the different plot strands work together. Split into three different narratives, the reader is faced with love, anger, regret and everything in between.  We find characters of different ages, genders, races and positions and because of this each character is fascinating. Waldman gives each of them their own story and all of them are at times almost impossible to like, although you can't help but love them either. There are moments which will break your heart and Waldman never sacrifices the reality of her chosen time-period for the sake of "plot". She describes the harshness and cruelty of a continent ripped apart, while never depicting humanity as utterly lost and depraved.

What Waldman manages to do in Love and Treasure is tell the story of the Second World War and the Holocaust in a way that is new and, in lack of a better word, refreshing. History is a story that is often retold and sometimes it can seem as if everything has already been told. The skill, then, for an author, lies in finding a new angle of telling a well-known story. Waldman picks up the, for some reason, relatively obscure story of the Hungarian Gold Train and from there spins her own tale. She doesn't shirk away from showing everyone from both their good and their bad sides, may it be the American soldiers, the Zionists or the late 19th century elite. As a consequence her characters are real, are human, and act surprisingly at times. Something I majorly enjoyed was Waldman's development of female characters. They are active and crucial to the plot of each of the narratives.

Waldman's writing style is both straight-forward and beautifully descriptive. Whether she is describing Salzburg as it once was or talking about the horrors of the concentration camps, there is something very honest to her writing. It is engaging and it is fascinating. The different characters' stories will stick with you when you are forced to put the book down to resume normal life and will mercilessly drag you back. Love and Treasure doesn't shirk back from showing humanity from its bad sides, yet Waldman always reminds the reader of the beauty in the world as well. Finally, the novel addresses a consequence of the Holocaust which is overlooked by many people: the utter loss of culture that Europe suffered through the destruction of the Jewish people. A whole generation of musicians, artists and craftsmen disappeared and after reading Love and Treasure this will be something you will severely lament.

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

Love and Treasure is stunning and is a novel that will stick with you for a long time. Waldman moves between narratives and characters with ease, explaining one by developing the other. Each of the time periods discussed are fascinating and Waldman has clearly done her research. I recommend this to everyone who is interested in historical fiction and in the Second World War.

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