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Reviewed by Jax Kepple
Two-thirds of Love and Treasure, by Ayelet Waldman is an interesting, well-written and thought-out story. The other third is an odd insert that doesn’t really match up to the rest. Love and Treasure is a tale of Jack Wiseman and his granddaughter, Natalie and a psychotherapist Dr. Zobel, as they find love unexpectedly: Jack in Salzburg, Austria at the end of WWII and Natalie in Budapest, Hungary in the current day, and Dr. Zobel, also in Budapest in the early 20th century.
Jack is in charge of guarding the cache found on the Hungarian Gold Train, a cargo train that was loaded with valuables from Jewish citizens. During his time in Salzburg, he visits a Displaced Persons camp (really a dilapidated old hotel, housing six to a room) and falls in love with Ilona, a fiery redhead who survived the camps. Throughout their story, Jack is confronted again and again with the fact that he doesn’t know what the survivors have gone through, that he is unable to see their reality. He tries to do what he feels is right when dealing with his fellow soldiers and while dealing with the DPs but often feels like it isn’t enough. The Salzburg part of the story ends with a bittersweet note, but it was very well-researched and detailed. It is not common knowledge about how bad it was for the DPs after they were liberated from the camps, and how they were viewed by the soldiers and commoners. Ilona is portrayed as distant, and a bit elusive, and Jack is head over heels in love with her no matter what she does. Jack and Ilona’s story is more of a classic love tale, one with old-fashioned courting and manners and a resolution that is realistic to the time period.
Natalie’s story picks up in Budapest, where she goes to track down the rightful owner of something her grandfather Jack had stolen from the Hungarian Gold Train. She meets a man, Amitai, via an antiques dealer, who is looking for a painting in which the item Natalie has is featured (without giving too much away). Together they go off on an adventure, throughout Budapest and Israel, to find the painting, and backtrack to find the owner of the item. A bit of highjinks, a bit of love and romance, a very obvious “villain,” Natalie’s story is the modern-day love story, mixed with an adventure tale. Both Natalize and Amitai have “complicated” back stories, and it’s fun to read, without a lot of high stakes.
Unfortunately, the third part of the story takes an odd turn: while Jack and Natalie’s stories are written in the third person, Dr. Zobel’s is written in the first person, as he is transcribing his dealings with a patient of his (Nina S.) ten years prior. There are a lot of issues with this part of the book. For starters, it does not shed any light or offer any information that wasn’t already given in Natalie’s story. Secondly, the way he was writing in his journal was completely unrealistic. While describing scenes that he was not a first-hand witness to, the clunky and sloppy writing really stood out. How did he know that this man tried to kiss her hand? How did he know that Nina helped her mother button up her dress? These details would have been fine in the third person narrative but here, they just made no sense. And the out-of-left-field declaration of love in the last line of Dr. Zobel’s story felt it was just tacked out in order to make each part about love.
Despite the issues with the third part of Love and Treasure, the first two truly make up for it, expertly blending history and romance into a great story.
Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.
Review and giveaway copies were provided by Knopf. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.