Review: Love & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman (Knopf, 352 pages, April 2014)

Because my mom is into World War II novels and histories, and because we swap books frequently, I've read a tonnn of WWII fiction. I can safely say, though, that Love & Treasure is one of the best I've read in a very long time.

Taking as her central element the true story of the Hungarian Gold Train (which carried items stolen from Hungary's Jews during the Holocaust), Waldman weaves a complex fictional tapestry involving characters from three different eras. Jack Wiseman, an American soldier ordered to guard and take inventory of the train's contents at the end of the war, is ultimately burdened with the knowledge that the items will never and can never be returned to their rightful owners, since nearly all of them were murdered in the camps. 

Many years later, Wiseman gives a beautiful locket that he took from the train to his granddaughter, Natalie, asking her to track down the heirs of its original owner (a nearly impossible task). And then there's Dr. Zobel, psychoanalyst to the locket's owner in pre-WWI Budapest.

Waldman jumps from one era to another, moving backwards and forwards, and yet framing the entire story in short chapters focusing on Jack's complex emotional reaction to the train. This train was, after all, a symbol of the enormous death and destruction that engulfed so many.

The shifting chronology and narrative point-of-view are anything but accidental, for they make us acknowledge the non-linearity of time and memory. After all, when Natalie travels to eastern Europe to find the locket's owner, her immersion in the records and photographs of the time transports her back to a vanished era, filled with people who couldn't have imagined the coming destruction of their thriving community. We move through time and space in this novel, yet we keep coming back to the same cities and the same people, because photographs and lockets and letters are remnants of human lives. They serve as reminders of what came before, even after their owners have been silenced.

Clearly, I recommend that you read Love & Treasure. You'll thank me. Yes you will.

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