These characters include a groundbreaking psychiatrist in 1914 Budapest, a captain in the US Army during the Second World War, and a contemporary art trader born in Israel. The mysterious questions raised by the peacock and its story lead the characters — and the reader — to ponder the meaning of gifts and treasures when they are ripped away from the people who first cherished them?
Waldman’s story spirits the reader through a turbulent century of European (and global) politics and culture, starting in fin-de-siecle Budapest, staying over in Salzburg in the aftermath of the war, and coming to rest at last in modern New York. At the beginning of the tale, the peacock pendant is a token of friendship. Before the story is over, it will become a symbol of love, a talisman of misfortune, and more. Each of the characters that encounters this central object is dramatically changed by the experience.
Love and Treasure stretch across multiple continents embrace the history of an entire century and delves deeply into the worlds of psychoanalysis, art, and feminism. Most importantly, it retains real insight into ordinary human feelings against the backdrop of its historical sweep. It’s a definite triumph for Waldman, and it’s no wonder that The Guardian called Love and Treasure both ambitious and perceptive.
The book is difficult to put down once the reader gets caught up in its enthralling narrative. The events unfold in dramatic rather than chronological order, sending the reader back and forth across the decades to look closely at the forces at work before, during, and after the Holocaust. The author is careful to paint compelling portraits of her characters even as they grapple with the 20th century’s weightiest issues.
The story begins with Natalie Stein, a divorcee striving to find some meaning in her life by locating the heir of a little-known relic from WWII. As Waldman confidently weaves Stein’s story into those of the other women who have come into contact with the novel’s central pendant, she delights the reader with different aspects of a story that is at times a romance, at times a thriller, and even at times a historical text.
Beyond being a book about women, or about Jews, or about the early days of psychoanalysis, Love and Treasure are most of all about what it means to be human — and to remain so — in the face of both triumph and tragedy. No shortage of novels deal with the Holocaust, but few tackle the subject with such ambition and subtlety as Waldman’s book.