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.
Stephanie: Ayelet, it is a wonderful to be chatting with you today and what a fascinating period in history your story takes place in. Is Love and Treasure based on a true story?
Ayelet: The specifics of the locket are all made up, as are the characters. The events surrounding the Gold Train, however, are all true. It existed, and was in fact turned over to US Forces in Austria at the end of the war.
The Women’s Suffrage conference took place in Budapest when I said it did, but I made up all the characters.
Stephanie: What made you decide to write this story and what were the challenges?
Ayelet: I have always wanted to write about the Holocaust, but I always resisted, because of the danger of being exploitative. I hate those books that use the calamity of the six million as a trick for easy emotion. If I read one more book about the “One Good German,” my head will explode.
But there are books that illuminate without exploiting. Books like W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. I was afraid for many years to approach this subject, but once I found the story of the Gold Train, I realized that that story – one that I’d never heard before – could be a way in to the material, a way that I could avoid the perils of exploitation.
Stephanie: What about this period in history that fascinates you the most?
Ayelet: What fascinates me is not the fact of the tragedy, not the incomprehensible loss. What fascinates me is the world that existed before, the world where Europe had this vibrant, exciting Jewish community. It wasn’t a community of shtetls and rabbis, like you might think if you looking only at the photos of Roman Vishniac and sang along with Fiddler on the Roof. It was a diverse society, throughout different countries and cultures. The Jews of Budapest were assimilated and successful, no less so than we are now. It’s that vanished world that is my obsession.
Stephanie: Why have you chosen to write Historical Fiction and what are the rewards?
Ayelet: I love the research. It’s so much fun, because it’s work, but it’s not the difficult, draining work of writing.
Stephanie: Will you write other stories in this era?
Ayelet: I’m working on one now!
Stephanie: Who are your influences and how much do you read?
Ayelet: I keep a booklog with everything I read. Check it out! http://www.ayeletwaldman.com/booklog/
Stephanie: How often do you write?
Ayelet: I write 5 days a week, from carpool to carpool, while my children are at school.
Stephanie: What is your favorite quote?
Ayelet: I don’t really have one off the top of my head. I guess if I had to choose one. F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
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.”
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.
Virtual Book Tour Schedule
Wednesday, May 28 Guest Post at Passion for Novels
Thursday, May 29 Review at Mari Reads
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
Friday, June 13 Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
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
Tuesday, July 1 Interview at Jorie Loves a Story