Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman
|Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A wonderfully panoramic, insightful novel bringing us the conflicts and essence of being Jewish in (and after) some of the darkest hours across 20th century Europe. Not just another study in suffering and survival but a genre-busting, factoid-packed, unforgettable journey.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: April 2014|
|Publisher: Two Roads|
|External links: Author's website|
Jack and his granddaughter Natalie are both at a cross roads in their lives. She is single again after a short disastrous marriage and he is dying. Natalie comes to stay and during her visit Jack asks a favour. He asks her to embark on a mission for him involving a peacock pendant and some unfinished business from nearly 70 years ago.
Ayelet Waldman is married to Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon but also has her own place in the pool of US literary talent. Ayelet has successfully ploughed her own furrow as one of America's great commentators of Jewish life via novels, non-fiction and essays. (I won't list them here. Wiki in your next free moment and be suitably amazed.) I shame-facedly mumble here that Love and Treasure is the first of Ayelet's books that I've read but it definitely won't be the last.
Using a piece of jewellery as a linking vehicle we're shown so much and emerge with new understandings and some shocks about the struggles of the Jews on a canvas broader than we would generally consider.
Through this love story/thriller/demonstration of attitudes and culture we travel from the US across Europe and the 20th century accompanying various wonderfully engaging characters. Initially we travel back in time with Jack to his days in post-war Salzburg guarding the notorious Hungarian gold train. Even at this early stage Ayelet leaves us in no doubt of her ability as she cunningly juxtaposes the purpose of the American military mission alongside their behaviour and that of 'the enemy', subtly asking us to spot the difference.
I won't go on listing the people we meet as it may become a spoiler. However each section of the novel and each person demonstrate a different experience as well as a different tension. For Jack this tension is caused by his Jewish religion and being a soldier; the two aren't comfortable companions when he has to reconcile his conscience.
The insights (as in the case of the train) may sometimes engender discomfort as we realise that such things actually happened. Some such events are caused by ignorance as well as badly thought through ideas from well-meaning people (e.g. the Red Cross sending crates of lipstick to the starving Belsen victims). Others hold a magnifying glass up to general pervasive attitudes; the observations of early 20th century psychiatry regarding menstrual cramps for instance. (Relax though chaps – it's not graphic!) There are also some great observations on the downside of publically acknowledged mistresses in the early 1900s, just in case we were wondering.
Indeed the joy of this novel isn't just in the all-encompassing story; it's not just in the history that the world as a whole should not only know but also acknowledge. It's not even just in the encyclopaedic coverage that weaves knowledge seamlessly into a flowing narration. The joy of this novel is that we get all of this in a single volume making it well worth a read. (That was my British understatement there by the way!)
A heart thank you to Two Roads for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: If you'd like to read more about the hangover that haunted the end of WWII, we heartily recommend The Soldier's Story by Bryan Forbes.
You can read more book reviews or buy Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman at Amazon.com.
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