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On Sale: April 01, 2014
Pages: 352 | ISBN: 978-0-385-53355-3
Published by : Knopf Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

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. 

Excerpt

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.”

“Yes, sir.”

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.”

“Yes, sir.”

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.
Ayelet Waldman

About Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman - Love and Treasure

Photo © Stephanie Rausser

Ayelet Waldman is the author of Daughter’s Keeper and of the Mommy-Track mystery series. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Believer, Child Magazine, and other publications, and she has a regular column on Salon.com. She and her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, live in Berkeley, California with their four children.
Praise

Praise

"Grounded in history, this exciting novel is full of twists and compelling characters.”
—Isabel Allende

"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 object--a symbol, as the book progresses, of fatal bad luck--into 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 identity--how 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 possession--of oneself, of one's things, and of one's home. Love and Treasure is romantic, provocative and ripe for discussion--a 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' is--and why it is worth more than treasure."
Publishers Weekly
 
“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."
—Michael Ondaatje

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.”
—Daniel Handler

"Complex and thoughtful, moving and carefully researched, this is a novel to love and treasure."
—Philippa Gregory
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Love and Treasure, Ayelet Waldman’s ambitious and mesmerizing novel that weaves love, intrigue, and politics against the true story of the Hungarian Gold Train.

About the Guide

Ambitious in scope yet heartbreakingly intimate in its execution, Love and Treasure spans time and geography to lead readers on an unforgettable journey of discovery, truth, and forgiveness. Part historical record, part love story, and part thriller, the novel  is set around a beautiful pendant unearthed from the Hungarian Gold Train in post–World War II Austria and the quest to determine its ancestry.

In 1945, in a town just outside of Salzburg, American soldiers have been ordered to watch over a freight train filled with extraordinary riches. There are cases of gold watches, piles of fur coats, and priceless family heirlooms, which, in spite of their tremendous beauty and worth, share an ugly past: they were confiscated from Hungary’s Jewish citizens. The lieutenant tasked with guarding these treasures, Jack Wiseman, finds himself embroiled in a situation that tests the limits of his morality—a situation that grows even more complicated when Ilona, a beautiful Hungarian woman, enters his life. Seventy years later, Jack gives his granddaughter, Natalie Stein, a pendant with mysterious origins and sends her on a mission to hunt down its rightful owner. Determined to honor her grandfather’s wishes, Natalie embarks on a whirlwind journey through Europe, encountering seedy back-door art dealers and scouring dusty historical archives, coming ever closer to tracking down the elusive owner. As she slowly uncovers truths about forgotten figures of the past, Natalie finds herself having to redefine her own present.

With vivid prose and unforgettable characters, Love and Treasure is a masterful examination of grief, memory, legacy, and ultimately, of the strange ways in which love manifests itself, even in the grimmest of times.

About 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.

Discussion Guides

1. Love and Treasure is a novel that illuminates the shifting nature of identity. In the beginning of the novel, Jack Wiseman is described as a New York Jew whose father’s parents are of “authentic German Jewish stock,” (page 18) yet he finds it a struggle to connect with both the American soldiers under his command and the European Jews he encounters. How does Jack’s definition of himself change over the course of the novel? How do Jack’s fellow soldiers view him? How is he viewed by the Hungarian civilians he meets? What does this say about the how cultural heritage is assigned or interpreted?

2. On page 12, Jack admits that for many years the “contents of the pouch had been a kind of obsession” to him. In what ways does his granddaughter internalize this obsession and make it her own? What drives Natalie’s quest? Did Jack send her on this mission out of duty to the owner or to renew the “glimmer of interest” (page 13) in his granddaughter that had been destroyed by her divorce? Both?

3. When Jack first meets Ilona, he declares that she is all “wire and sparks” (page 29). How does her presence help Jack to better understand his identity as a Jew? As an American? How does she challenge his views about the war or its aftermath?

4. Throughout the novel, Jack is caught between his duty to country (in maintaining his position of watching over the train) and his duty to the people of Hungary (in trying to ensure that the goods are returned to their rightful owners). How do these two missions conflict with each other?

5. Chart Jack’s view of the military over the course of the novel, taking into account his interactions with his fellow American soldiers. Does he relate to any of the soldiers? If so, who? Discuss his conversation with Lieutenant Hoyle at the bar after his breakup with Ilona. How did you interpret the violence at the end of this encounter?

6. Jack’s encounters with Aba Yuval give him a more fully realized understanding of the political situation facing the Jews of Europe. What is Jack’s mind-set going into the trip where he helps smuggle the refugees over the border? What are his feelings toward the group’s goal by the end of the mission? How does this encounter challenge his understanding of nationalism?

7. Ilona and Natalie are described as physically similar, with both having fiery red hair. Is the author’s choice to have the two women share this feature purposeful? What else, if anything, do the two women share?

8. On page 139, Natalie struggles to admit to Amitai that the pendant is stolen, instead saying her grandfather “found” it during the occupation. Why does she stumble over these words? What does her hesitation say about the definition of discovery? Of ownership? How are these problems echoed throughout the novel? How are they reflected in the world of stolen paintings that Amitai deals in?

9. Compare and contrast the failed marriages of Amitai and Natalie. How do their failed marriages prepare them for meeting each other? Discuss the symbolism of Natalie wearing the pendant to her wedding to Daniel.

10. Why is Amitai hesitant to share his military past with Natalie? What other sins of omission occur throughout the novel? ( page 156)

11. Amitai is Israeli but he craves “the anonymity of the immigrant, to be a man with a vague accent in a city of vague accents” (page 175). How does this desire for erasure contrast with Natalie’s desire to understand her cultural heritage? How do their respective homelands encourage or complicate those desires?

12. When Natalie Stein becomes Natalie Kennedy, she meaningfully disrupts the established script for her behavior. What does this say about the fluidity of identity? How does this transgression embolden her?

13. On page 221, the pendant is returned to as close to its rightful heir as possible. What was your reaction to Dalia’s request to get the necklace appraised? What does her indifference to the physical object say about the dilution of history over time? Of personal connection to the Holocaust? To kin?

14. On pages 224–225, Natalie and Amitai fill out the Page of Testimony for Vidor Komlós, Gizella Weisz, and Nina Einhorn. What is the significance of this act?

15. The events of part three are narrated from the perspective of Dr. Zobel, a Freudian analyst. Why do you think the author to choose to include this point of view? Is the doctor reliable as a narrator? What textual evidence exists to 

16. Gizella and Nina are introduced as strong-willed women who are ahead their time: Nina dreams of medical school, and Gizella is active in radical politics. What challenges do these early feminists face, both from their countrymen and from their families? Why do you think Zobel seeks them out years later?

17. Stealing is a motif in the novel: Jack pockets the pendant; the American soldiers freely “shop” from the Gold Train; Natalie lifts a painting; Amitai deals in the world of stolen paintings. How do the motivations for these acts differ? Who is morally right in his actions? What does the novel as a whole assert about ownership?

18. Love and Treasure is a novel that weaves intricate plotlines among stunning character portraits, bringing to life a historical event with fictitious details. Yet as the history unravels, gaps emerge and often disrupt a clear narrative. What does this assert about memory, both collective and personal? About how history is interpreted or reinterpreted over time?

Suggested Readings

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer; The History of Love by Nicole Krauss; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; The Gold Train: The Destruction of the Jews and the Looting of Hungary by Ronald W. Zweig; The Reader by Bernhard Schlink; Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Ayelet Waldman

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Ayelet Waldman - Love and Treasure

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