In Love and Treasure, Ayelet Waldman traces the fate of a single item – a necklace with a peacock pendant – and uses it to tell the story of Hungary’s Jewish communities before and after the Holocaust. Spanning a period of one hundred years, the novel is divided into three separate stories, but there are links between all three and the peacock pendant plays an important role in each one.
The novel begins in 2013 with a conversation between Jack Wiseman and his granddaughter, Natalie, when he admits to her that the necklace she wore on her wedding day thinking it was her grandmother’s did not actually belong to her grandmother at all. The real owner, he says, is unknown, but he would like Natalie to find her and give the pendant back.
We then move back in time to Salzburg in 1945 where Jack is serving in the US army. He is given the responsibility for guarding the Hungarian Gold Train, a train containing the confiscated personal belongings of thousands of Hungarian Jews (paintings, watches, furs, cameras and other objects) but while he does his best to protect its contents he is forced to watch as his fellow army officers ‘borrow’ one item after another. When Jack’s days in charge of the train come to an end, he himself steals one of its treasures – the peacock pendant – because it reminds him of Ilona, a Jewish girl from the Hungarian town of Nagyvárad whom he has grown close to during his time in Salzburg.
Returning to 2013, Natalie is beginning her search for the original owner of the pendant – a search which will take her to Budapest where she joins forces with Amitai Shasho, an Israeli art dealer on a special mission of his own. This takes us into the final section of the book, set in 1913 Budapest and telling the story of a psychoanalyst and one of his patients, a young Hungarian suffragette whose strong views lead to her father wanting her treated for insanity.
Of the three main sections of the novel I think my favourite was the first one, the story of Jack and Ilona. Ilona is a survivor of the concentration camps and through her character, Waldman explores the lives of the Displaced Persons who lost their homes and their families during the war. I thought she did an excellent job of showing what it may have felt like to be a Jew displaced in Europe after the war had ended. I cared about Jack and Ilona in a way that I never really came to care about Natalie and Amitai, so I was sorry to leave them behind when I reached the end of the first section and moved on to the second.
I also enjoyed the final part of the book: narrated by the psychoanalyst, Dr Zobel, this is the only section to be written in the first person rather than the third, and I thought his narrative voice was very strong and distinctive – just what I would expect from a man of his profession in 1913.
I found Love and Treasure a very interesting read because it introduced me to subjects I knew little or nothing about. The Hungarian Gold Train, for example, really existed, yet it’s something I had never read about before and I thought it was fascinating. While the book didn’t really affect me emotionally as much as I would have expected from a novel about the Holocaust, the fact that it was so intriguing from an historical perspective made up for it.
I read this book as part of the Love and Treasure Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour. For more reviews, interviews and guest posts please see the tour schedule.