The book is at heart about a pendant, its provenance, the procurement by a later owner, and the quest to return the jewelry. Jack Wiseman is a US army officer, who after the war has ended, is given the task of guarding and inventorying the contents of the Hungarian Gold Train. For those who might not know (I didn’t) this story builds on true historical events. A part of Operation Margarethe, the Nazi invasion of Hungary, the Hungarian government, colluding with the Nazi invaders, forced Jewish residents to turn over all valuables. These were in turn loaded onto a train bound for Berlin. In 1945, the train was seized by the Allies. Thus began the difficult task of restitution, with many of the owners having been killed in concentration camps and army leaders pilfering objects for personal use.
Jack’s story begins in Austria, as he tries to fight superiors taking possession of the train’s contents for personal use. Meanwhile, he has met a woman, a survivor of the camps, for whom he takes a necklace from the train, in the hopes that it had belonged to her family. He eventually returns stateside with the necklace in hand. Much later, as Jack is dying, he passes this necklace to his granddaughter Nathalie, whom he hopes will be able to return it. The novel has a tripartite structure, with the first portion covering Jack’s time in Austria, the second chronicling Natalie’s attempts to return the necklace, and the third telling the history of the necklace’s origin.
I found the three parts of the story disjointed, particularly the last third of the book, with which I was particularly disappointed. I was travelling as I read the novel, and actually read each third in a different state (Jack’s story on my trip to Evanston to look for apartments for next year, Natalie’s in D.C. while visiting my parents, and Nina’s back in New York), which may have contributed to the fragmented feeling I got while reading it. Love and Treasure felt like three separate books crammed together into one, too loosely connected to make for a great story once combined.
All in all, I really loved the topic, but was overall disappointed with the execution. I think I might have been happier with the experience if I had just read the first 2/3 of the book and stopped there. The writing is great, and the subject was spot on, but the story itself was just lacking a little panache. The book is not without merit, but I would have a hard time resolutely recommending it.