Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Love and Treasure - Ayelet Waldman

'He opened the little velvet bundle, and found a piece of women's jewellery, a large pendant decorated wth an enamel painting of a peacock in vivid purple and green, with white accents...'

Love and Treasure is a novel that spans a century, with a story that begins with a brief prologue in 2013, takes us back to 1945, then forwards again to later in 2013, and back once more, further this time to 1913. I found myself drawn into the story immediately, and was intrigued by what Jack Wiseman had asked of his granddaughter, Natalie Stein, who has arrived to visit him. Jack is very ill now, and Natalie is in an unhappy state after her marriage has ended. He entrusts her with the role of finding the original owner of a pendant which she wore on her wedding day and returning it to them. The first major part of the narrative begins in 1945, where is Jack is an American soldier from New York stationed in Salzburg after the end of the Second World War. 

Ayelet Waldman does a great job with her characterisation; I felt I really got to know what sort of man Jack was through her portrayal of him, and I admired him. I found this first third of the story captivating, and I wondered what would happen between Jack and Ilona, the lady he meets in Salzburg, a displaced person originally from Hungary. Jack is charged with looking after the contents of the Hungarian Gold Train, items stolen from Hungarian Jews during the war and which are being stored by the US in Salzburg after they intercepted the train. Jack and Ilona are both Jewish, but with wildly different experiences of life in recent years. Ilona has lost her home, her belongings, endured the horror of concentration camps and seen most of her close family put to death by the Nazis; she clings on to the hope that her sister Etelka may still be alive. Jack is a warmhearted good man determined to try and do the right thing, and he soon falls in love with Ilona, but always treating her with kindness and gentleness;

'He would just sit here next to her. He wouldn't bother her. He wouldn't touch her or speak to her or force himself on her in any way. He would just sit here and wait and show her by waiting that he would always be here, that she could trust him never to leave her alone.' 

One of the items that Jack notices amongst the thousands of things on the train is a pendant in the shape of a peacock. He finds it in a jewellery case that bears the name of a jeweller in the city where Ilona lived, Nagyvarad. It is this item that is the thread that links the different parts of this novel together, linking the stories of several Jewish people over this hundred-year period. This is what Jack passes to his granddaughter Natalie in the prologue. 

The second part of the narrative brings us back to 2013, and takes us to Budapest, where we find Natalie embarking on her quest to trace the origins of the pendant; here she meets art historian Amitai Shasho, who grew up in Israel and who himself has a keen interest in art and artefacts stolen from Jews during the war. The final part of the novel then takes us back to Budapest, this time in 1913, and features a first-person narrative by a Freudian psychoanalyst. I don't want to give too much more away about the plot here. 

UK hardback edition cover

I think Ayelet Waldman writes passionately about her subjects here, and she has created an intriguing narrative through which she explores many things; aspects of history, the loss of a home and the search for a new one, the differences between people, relationships between men and women, introducing fascinating characters, including strong, determined females in each part of her tale. It's a well-researched and richly imagined historical novel which swept me away, strongly evoking the periods and places featured in each of the different parts of the story. I feel that her portrayal was honest and frank, she doesn't shy away from difficult areas but confronts them as part of her narrative. 

Each part of the story intrigued me, though I must admit that I particularly loved reading the section of the novel involving Jack and Ilona in 1945-6, the compelling portrayal of them living through such difficult days and trying to find the way forward. Love and Treasure depicted aspects of history and politics which I had known little about and I feel like it increased my understanding of some subjects too. This is the first novel I've read by this author and on the basis of this one I'd certainly look out for more of her books. 

I reviewed Love and Treasure as part of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour. See below for more information.

Tour Hashtag: #LoveandTreasureBlogTour


About the novel

Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Knopf Publishing
Formats: Ebook, Hardcover, Audio

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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.

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.

Buy the Book

Watch the Book Trailer

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Tuesday, May 27
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Wednesday, May 28
Guest Post at Passion for Novels

Thursday, May 29
Review at Mari Reads

Friday, May 30
Review at She Reads Novels
Review at Dianne Ascroft’s Blog

Monday, June 2
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, June 3
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, June 4
Review at Seaside Book Corner

Thursday, June 5
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book

Friday, June 6
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book

Monday, June 9
Review at Closed the Cover

Tuesday, June 10
Interview at Closed the Cover

Wednesday, June 11
Review at A Bookish Girl
Review at Peeking Between the Pages

Friday, June 13
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Monday, June 16
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Guest Post at Historical Fiction Connection

Wednesday, June 18
Review at Let Them Read Books

Thursday, June 19
Review at Book Nerd

Friday, June 20
Review at Curling Up with a Good Book

Monday, June 23
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Tuesday, June 24
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading

Wednesday, June 25
Review at Lit Nerd

Thursday, June 26
Review at The Little Reader Library

Friday, June 27
Review at Man of la Book

Monday, June 30
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview at Layered Pages

Tuesday, July 1
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

Wednesday, July 2
Review at From L.A. to LA
Review at Mina’s Bookshelf

Thursday, July 3
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews


  1. I really enjoyed this novel too and would definitely look out for other works by this author. My favourite section was the 1913 narrative and I think, because it is so varied and detailed, there is something for everyone. Glad you enjoyed it too :D

  2. I enjoyed your commentary on this one Lindsay. You seem to convey a lot about the book.

    Novels that take place across various times seem very popular these days. I do think that such plots allow for lots of dramatic and emotional possibilities. When the narrative focuses upon an object like a pendent, it can add even more interest. Thus this one sounds very good.

  3. I'm with Brian, you really have conveyed a lot in this post, all of of it interesting and relative.

    This Love And Treasure sounds like a great read with lots of dimensions to it and just as important to me the characters sound well written and incredibly varied.

  4. This sounds like a captivating read. I haven't been big on Historical fiction for the past few years...though I am reading a book set in the 20's now...but I always appreciate great character development.

  5. Great review and commentary, Lindsay. I volunteer at the local community library, and this novel sounds as if it would appear to quite a few of our readers.


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