Good Minds Suggest—Ayelet Waldman's Favorite Books About Lost (and Found) Artifacts

April, 2014
Ayelet Waldman As well known for her acclaimed fiction as for her controversial essays on topics ranging from the mommy wars to abortion to loving her husband more than her children (which ignited a firestorm of debate online and in Oprah's TV studio), Ayelet Waldman does not shrink from hot-button issues. Her new historical novel, Love and Treasure, approaches the pain of the Holocaust from a little-told angle: the true story of the Hungarian Gold Train. This 42-car Nazi freight train, captured by the U.S. Army outside of Salzburg in 1945, was packed floor to ceiling with art, fine jewelry, fur coats, and other valuables—estimated to be worth more than $1 billion in today's dollars. All stolen property of Hungarian Jews, almost none of the cargo was returned to its rightful owners. Waldman's novel follows an American Army captain tasked with guarding the train, and his lifelong guilt upon taking a peacock necklace. Berkeley-based Waldman, who's also the author of Red Hook Road and Bad Mother, shares her favorite books about artifacts lost and sometimes found.

The Messiah of Stockholm by Cynthia Ozick
"Lars Andemening, the tormented, deluded, and often (inadvertently) hilarious hero of this gem of a novel, has managed to convince himself that he is the son of Bruno Schulz, the Polish artist and writer murdered by the SS in the town of Drohobych in 1942. A young woman throws Lars's delusions into disarray by appearing with a copy of what she claims is Schulz's legendary lost manuscript, The Messiah. And like Lars, she claims Schulz as her father. To describe the novel as a philosophical musing on literary influence and on the losses and displacements of the Holocaust is accurate but insufficient. Its pleasure lies in its wit and in Ozick's manipulation of realism and surrealism in a way reminiscent of Schulz himself."


From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
"There is a kind of bookish child who whiles away her insomniac hours fantasizing about running away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sleeping in the ornate beds, and living off pennies (and the occasional quarters) collected from the fountains. In the novel, the runaways Claudia and Jamie are tasked by the mysterious Mrs. Frankweiler with combing through her files to discover the true provenance of a marble statue of an angel that she recently donated to the museum. When I was a little girl, this book more than any other (except perhaps Harriet the Spy) gave me a desperately needed feeling of companionship. I wasn't the only lonely child in the world!"


People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
"The lost (and found) artifact in this fantastically compelling novel (I read all 372 pages over the course of just a couple of magical days) is the illuminated Sarajevo Haggadah, rescued from certain destruction not once but twice, most recently from the Serbian bombing of Sarajevo and before that from the Nazis. Both times, the men who saved the Jewish codex were Muslim, one a scholar of Islam, the other a librarian. Brooks takes us back through time, telling the stories of various real and imagined owners of the Haggadah."


Running Dog by Don DeLillo
"Could anyone other than DeLillo write a novel about a mysterious (and perhaps nonexistent) pornographic movie shot in Hitler's bunker and starring the führer himself? I suppose the answer has to be 'Yes,' but the results wouldn't be anywhere near as funny. Everyone is trying to get their hands on the film: mafioso and senators, porn kings and spies, and an intrepid young reporter (a stock character who might have come off as trite in anyone other than DeLillo's capable hands). I can't say anymore for fear of ruining the ending."


The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (Goodreads Author)
"I'm not generally a fan of pastiche, but Phillips manages something magical in this novel. The lost (or forged) Shakespearean tragedy that makes up the final third of the novel is absolutely convincing, at least to this (admittedly inexpert) reader. This is a novel about 'bardolotry' and fandom but mostly about family and fatherhood. It's about the anxiety of influence both literary and paternal."



Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Ruins and Artifacts



Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Smith A kindred spirit - the mixed up files and Harriet the spy are two treasures from my earliest reading days as well.


message 2: by evelyn maher (new)

evelyn maher Geraldine Brooks writes marvelous books. I have read them all and enjoyed each one. She does one wonderful job with the Black Plague in "Year of Wonders" Fantastic!


message 3: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Shepherd I, too, read and re-read "Mixed-up Files" & "Harriet the Spy," excited to meet girls who did things I wanted to do. And to reader Evelyn, above, thanks for the Geraldine Brooks recommendation!


message 4: by Janet (new)

Janet Thank you! Shame on me, I have not read any of the books above, but I will very soon.
Janet


message 5: by Amelia (new)

Amelia evelyn maher wrote: "Geraldine Brooks writes marvelous books. I have read them all and enjoyed each one. She does one wonderful job with the Black Plague in "Year of Wonders" Fantastic!"

Absolutely true. Year of Wonders was a wonder in itself.


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