Love & Treasure

Written by Ayelet Waldman
Review by Mary F. Burns

At the end of WWII, American soldier Jack Wiseman, a Jew, is assigned to look after a trainload of “items” shipped from Hungary on its way to the now-defunct Third Reich: gold watches, furs, jewelry, china, crystal, artwork, Shabbat candlesticks, kaddish cups, and silver Torah poles. Casual “borrowing” of the items by Army bigwigs to furnish their temporary houses in occupied territory sets up a conflict involving Jack’s position with the Army and his growing sense of Jewish solidarity. He falls in love, witnesses the struggles of the Jewish DPs in Europe, and gets involved in the emigration movement to Zionist Israel, which is fighting the British for control of Palestine.

Waldman’s complex saga starts out in 2013, moves back into the postwar years, then heads back to the present with Jack’s granddaughter Natalie, on a mission to resolve his unfinished business from the war, and ends up with an “after-story” from 1913 which adds some missing information. The subject itself is fascinating, as are the glimpses of Zionist fervor and its ambivalent relationship to the Holocaust and its victims. The main plot line – finding the presumably long-dead owner of a unique piece of jewelry – is pretty much a mulligan that sets the story in motion. Waldman tells a good story, but there’s occasionally too much exposition from the characters which is borderline tedious and breaks the fourth wall. Although Jack and his friends in 1945 are likable and interesting characters, the modern-day characters are rather two-dimensional and predictable. Love & Treasure is an interesting read, but it really seems like two books that don’t fit well together: a serious novel about outrageous acts of thievery and the search for identity, and a romantic love story wrapped inside a suspense caper.