Ayelet Waldman (Red Hook Road, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits) has written about personal tragedy numerous times: failed marriages, the struggles of motherhood, divided families. Her latest novel, Love & Treasure, deals with a larger human tragedy: the true story of the Hungarian Gold Train during World War II. It is a slight departure from her previous work, and yet, it remains just as powerful and inspiring.
Broken into three sections told over various periods of time, Love & Treasure follows three men: Jack, a young Jewish-American captain in Salzburg during WWII; Amitai, a famous Israeli-born art dealer in the current day who deals with repatriated items; and Dr. Zobel, a pioneering psychiatrist at the turn of the 20th century in Budapest. It begins with Jack, whose primary responsibility is to guard and take inventory for the Hungarian Gold Train, which was filled with stolen riches from exterminated Jews. There, he falls head over heels for Ilona, a striking Hungarian woman who has lost all her family to the concentration camps and is desperately holding out hope that her sister might have survived.
Then readers find Jack—50 years later—on his deathbed with cancer. It is there that he gives a stunning gemstone peacock pendant to his recently divorced daughter, Natalie Stein. His last wish is for her to return this item, stolen from the train, to its original owners, leading Natalie on an epic pilgrimage throughout Europe with Amitai, who finds himself quickly obsessed with both the pendant and Natalie herself.
The third section of the novel adds more layers to the story about the pendant’s origin and owner, but the heart of the novel is the story of Amitai and Natalie. Although the male characters control much of the narration, it is the female characters (Ilona, Natalie and the suffragette Gizella) who truly shine with their moxie, fiery spirits and utter determination. Whether they’re fighting for the rights of Jewish people, trying to secure the female vote or making sure a family promise is fulfilled, it is these leading ladies who make Love & Treasure a real treasure.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Ayelet Waldman for Love & Treasure.