A Holocaust Romance Tied to a Necklace, Filled With Clichés

Hindsight Is 20/20 in Ayelet Waldman’s ‘Love and Treasure’

Deborah Copaken Kogan

By Raphael Magarik

Published June 28, 2014, issue of July 04, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Love and Treasure
By Ayelet Waldman
Knopf, 352 pages, $26.95

A historical novel, the Hungarian literary critic Georg Lukács argued, should reach only as far backwards as the era of the author’s grandparents. That is because novelists build not balanced panoramas, but rather individual portraits. Real human beings are unrealistic, because they are improbably idiosyncratic. Only contact with witnesses gives writers the thick detail they need to make the zany plausible. As Holocaust survivors die, this problem becomes acute for its would-be literary chroniclers. In 2004, a little over a million survivors were living, and that number has steadily dwindled. Witnesses are particularly crucial in the case of the Holocaust, artistic representations of which have often seemed suspect; the French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas once denounced Holocaust art as turning “the Passion of Passions… into the vanity of an author.” Survivors not only feed the writer’s imagination but also morally authorize it.

This dilemma may also explain the title of “Love and Treasure,” Ayelet Waldman’s new novel, which tells its Holocaust story via precious trinkets. The novel follows an enameled pendant necklace backwards in time, from contemporary New York to pre-World War I Budapest. In between, the necklace travels on the Hungarian Gold Train, a real-life Nazi stash of plundered Jewish property shipped from Budapest to Berlin. On the way, the train’s contents were seized by Americans; they were rarely returned to their owners. The pendant does heavy literary lifting for Waldman, binding the novel’s stories and giving them a patina of historicity. Here, unique works of art and rare luxury goods serve to encode specificity and authenticity. And since gold matures better than flesh, watches and paintings can be drafted to substitute, however unsatisfactorily, for survivors.

The result is an archeological novel, whose several sections are built around the mysterious pendant. Natalie, a New York lawyer whose marriage has recently imploded, is charged to return the pendant by her dying grandfather, Jack Wiseman. Jack, a retired classics professor, purloined it in his youth from the Gold Train, which he had been guarding as an American Army officer in the wake of World War II. But unlike the thieving Americans soldiers he commands and his unscrupulous superiors, Jack is not motivated by greed. The pendant is his only memento of Ilona Jakab, a beautiful and stormy camp survivor whom he loved.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.