Interview with Bestselling Author Ayelet Waldman about WWII Literary Fiction, Love and Treasure!

Today we have an interview with bestselling author Ayelet Waldman, who just published Love and Treasure, a historical novel spanning many decades, but primarily surrounding the Hungarian Gold Train of WWII. If you’d like to win a copy click HERE to head to the Rafflecopter. Good luck and enjoy the interview!

Hi Ayelet!  Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I have to say I’ve started planning for your interview several times and each time, I uncover more layers about you. I am rarely intimidated by interview another, yet, you have accomplished so much that I am rather speechless (which also rarely happens, at least in typing)! I applaud your writings on motherhood, mental illness, democratic issues, women’s issues, and your short stories and novels are so poignant and deep with feeling. 

All that said, I hope to at least break the surface of your life and your newest book, Love and Treasure, which is an historical fiction surrounding the Holocaust, with you here in this interview. (Readers: You can see my review HERE.)

03_Love & Treasure

How has your prelude into summer been going for you, as you probably are breaking out into your backyard office (I read that you share one with your husband, who is also a writer), and has your book launch been what you expected?

Ayelet: Actually, I’m lying on a bed in a 100-year-old house in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. I was up until 3:30 with friends having the kind of raucous dinner party I never have back in the States. We were talking about literature, and the disastrous political situation. Complaining about the awful Prime Minister and agreeing that the one good thing about living in such a stressful country is that it gives you plenty to write about. 

Erin: Sounds like fun though!  We can have iced tea infused with rum and fruit maybe? Or water filled with mint and raspberries? Name your drinking preference and I’ll bring out the chocolate cheesecake.

Ayelet: Dying for some water with mint and raspberries. This is the first hangover I’ve had in about twenty years. I basically stopped drinking when I was in college! And here’s something else that will make me seem a little joyless (which I swear I’m not!): I don’t like chocolate. I mean, I enjoy a milk chocolate bar, but real chocolate? Not for me. 

Erin: Well, I like it, so more for me! Now that we are settled in, let’s get to talking about you and your writing.  

Q:  This novel, Love and Treasure, differs somewhat from many of your other writings since it takes place in the past. How has this particular novel taken you outside of the box, since much of your other writings are mysteries, essays, non-fiction, etc.? Or has telling stories of the past always been inside you?

A: I haven’t actually written mysteries in many years, and I only wrote one book of essays. My recent work has all, with the exception of my book of essays, been literary fiction of one sort or other (Daughter’s Keeper, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Red Hook Road). But this is my first historical novel. And it’s also by far my most ambitious. I have often tackled serious issues in my fiction, but nothing as fraught and complex as the Holocaust. 

Love and Treasure is definitely my best novel, and the process of writing it was so exciting that I’ve decided that my next novel will be historical, too. It was such a delight to write. The research was fun, the characters were delicious to discover. I’m eager to experience that again! 

Q:  I understand that your family is Jewish with your ancestors coming from the Ukraine. How did this influence you in writing your novel? Does any of your family history play a part in the novel or just the heritage as a whole?

A: My ancestors come from Ukraine, Belorussia, and Odessa. And yes, all Jewish. My interest in the Holocaust definitely stems from my Jewish background, but my family was not from Hungary. 

Q:  Your novel‘s story surrounds the famous Hungarian Gold Train story of World War II.  How much is based on fact and how much is the story spun from your imagination? How much research did you have to put into novel?

A: I did a vast amount of research. 

The incidents are all real, the characters (at least all the major ones) come from my imagination. High-ranking members of the American armed forces did indeed requisition items from the train, and did indeed take those things home with them. Essentially, looting them.

All the facts about life in post-war Salzburg are true, including all the details of life in the DP camps. That Purim scene? Taken from first person accounts.

The post-war massacres of survivors happened, as did the terrible treatment of survivors by certain US Army personnel, including General Patton, who said some true horrifying things about the Jewish survivors, and who seemed a little too admiring of the SS.

Jews from British Mandate Palestine did come into the camps to train, educate and help the survivors escape over the Alps into Italy, where they were then loaded onto ships which attempted to run the British blockade. The terrible things I have the young Jewish members of Mossad L’Aliyah Bet saying about the survivors are exact quotes taken from the writings of Ben Gurion. Uncomfortable to contemplate, I know, but true.

I thought I made up the concept of a shady art dealer who deals in stolen Holocaust art, with profit as his motive rather than justice, but then I actually found someone who does that very thing. That discovery didn’t do a whole lot for my faith in the fundamental decency of humanity.

The artist Vidor Komlós is a figment of my imagination, though I liberally stole from the biographies of various artists of the period in creating him. None of the actual people in the book exist, though I filched biographical details from many different real people in creating my fictional characters.

The story of Amitai’s courage in battle is based on the stories of various Israeli war heroes, including my own brother, who was wounded during the Israeli Yom Kippur War. 

There was in fact a family of dwarves who were both protected and tortured by Mengele at Auschwitz. The Weisz family in the novel are very loosely based on the Ovitz family, also from Transylvania.

All of the characters in Part 3 are entirely fictional, and none of the specific elements of the plot actually happened. There was no anarchist incident.

There was a International Woman’s Suffrage Conference in Budapest in 1913, and Rózsa Schwimmer was indeed a major figure in the international feminist movement, though she did not have a secretary with dwarfism.

Q:  Assuming you did some research, what interesting tidbits did you find during that time, whether used in the book or not, that surprised, shocked, or astounded you?

A: When I discovered the story of the Ovitz family – the family both saved and tortured by Mengele – that was tremendously interesting, and also heartbreaking. 

Q:  In creating your characters, how do you create them filled with so much emotion? Make them so multi-dimensional? What is your thought process as you form their personalities?

A: That’s what being a writer is all about. Fiction is about characters. If you can’t fill them with authentic emotion, passion and life, you have not done your work. 

Q:  Do you think as a society we are still feeling the effects of the Holocaust?  In the new generations, do they still feel the after ripples or are books like yours, and several others on the market, vitally important in order to create lasting emotional connections to the atrocities in some shape or form—to tell the tales of those who survived as an ode to those who didn’t?

A: You can’t pick up a newspaper nowadays without reading something about art or artifacts stolen during that terrible period. But the sad truth is that the actual survivors are almost all dead. That’s why telling the story is incredibly important. 

Q:  What can the young generations in America, and in the world, learn from the Holocaust and other current ongoing genocide? How can we being to foster peace and equality in religion, status, gender?

A: Oh my goodness. What a question! I wouldn’t really know how to begin to answer it. People always say if learn you can keep such atrocities  from happening again. I think human history has proven that that idea is problematic at best. But still we try. 

Q:  As a 39-year old mother of 3 children (ages 14, 10, 7), and also a professional writer and aspiring author), I’m curious how you make time to write and pursue your passions? How do I stop feeling guilty as a mom about pursuing my own writing, works, and ultimately, dreams?

A: I’m 49. Almost 50! I wrote an entire book about the struggle and guilt of motherhood (Bad Mother) so I can’t answer the question briefly, but I’ll only say this, guilt is the most toxic of emotions. And an immiserated mother who has sacrificed her passion on the altar of her children’s lives is of no use to anyone. 

Q:  Your essays, writings, and so forth on motherhood issues, women’s issues, and mental diseases really connected to me.  I read something by you once that said for someone (and I paraphrase loosely) of whom puts everything out there without holding back opinions you have also been sensitive to the reactions to them. I am very much the same. How do you cope with writing strong feelings and is it worth it? 

A: I never, EVER, Google myself. And I don’t read on line comments. Nor do I answer cruel emails. If someone is critical and takes the time to write me, I will reply, but not to the trolls of the world. Life’s too short. 

Q:  Your writing evokes such emotion, as many of us can relate to these raw human feelings in some shape or another (whether we like it or not).  For instance, your novel called Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was adapted into a film called “The Other Woman” starring Natalie Portman and directed by Don Roos.  It brought viewers and reviewers to tears. How does that feel to know that you can make people feel on such a deep level that most of society covers up?

A: That is the most gratifying thing about writing. I love the writers and books which have inspired me to great emotion, so thinking I might be able to do the same is thrilling. 

Q:  How do you find the courage to write on such emotional and personal topics such as loss, motherhood (not just the joys), mental illness? 

A: I gird my loins and remind myself how much I’ve relied on the words of courageous writers to help me through hard times! 

Q:  I read your article in Marie Claire from when you traveled with Hillary Clinton on her farewell tour as Secretary of State.  What do think about the possibility of there being a woman President of her caliber sometime within our lifetime?! Do you feel that for it being the 21st Century, we still have a long way to go in regards to women’s issues?

A: We’d better have a woman president in my lifetime or I’m going to die an really angry (and hopefully really old) lady. 

Q:  I read that you and your husband edit each other’s writing, working side by side.  Tim and I do that too, as we are both trained journalists, editors, and writers and we value each other’s feedback.  Not everyone has that ability to have their best friend be their co-workers and writing partner. How do others learn to appreciate constructive criticism?  What makes your own dynamic duo work so successfully?

A: A writer’s job is to accept criticism. It hurts, but it’s necessary!

Q: I could ask a million more questions, but I’ve already taken up so much of your time. How to readers and writers connect with you? (And do you have an advice column for writing moms??!)

A:  Through my website:

Q: What other books have you written and what is up next for you after Love and Treasure?

A: I’ve begun working on a new novel that I’m very excited about, but about which I have to keep mum for a bit, while the idea gels in my mind. 

Erin:  Thank you so very much for having this discussion with me, Ayelet. I appreciate your time and all your writing. I look forward to reading more of your work.  I hope you’ll drop by again! Best wishes for the summer and with Love and Treasure!

Ayelet: Thank you so much, Erin. It was a pleasure. 


Love and Treasure, Synopsis~

03_Love & TreasurePublication Date: April 1, 2014
Knopf Publishing
Formats: Ebook, Hardcover, Audio

A spellbinding new novel of contraband masterpieces, tragic love, and the unexpected legacies of forgotten crimes, Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure weaves a tale around the fascinating, true history of the Hungarian Gold Train in the Second World War.

In 1945 on the outskirts of Salzburg, victorious American soldiers capture a train filled with unspeakable riches: piles of fine gold watches; mountains of fur coats; crates filled with wedding rings, silver picture frames, family heirlooms, and Shabbat candlesticks passed down through generations. Jack Wiseman, a tough, smart New York Jew, is the lieutenant charged with guarding this treasure—a responsibility that grows more complicated when he meets Ilona, a fierce, beautiful Hungarian who has lost everything in the ravages of the Holocaust. Seventy years later, amid the shadowy world of art dealers who profit off the sins of previous generations, Jack gives a necklace to his granddaughter, Natalie Stein, and charges her with searching for an unknown woman—a woman whose portrait and fate come to haunt Natalie, a woman whose secret may help Natalie to understand the guilt her grandfather will take to his grave and to find a way out of the mess she has made of her own life.

A story of brilliantly drawn characters—a suave and shady art historian, a delusive and infatuated Freudian, a family of singing circus dwarfs fallen into the clutches of Josef Mengele, and desperate lovers facing choices that will tear them apart—Love and Treasure is Ayelet Waldman’s finest novel to date: a sad, funny, richly detailed work that poses hard questions about the value of precious things in a time when life itself has no value, and about the slenderest of chains that can bind us to the griefs and passions of the past.

Buy the Book~

Amazon US
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Book Depository

Watch the Book Trailer~

Praise for Love and Treasure~

“Love and Treasure is something of a treasure trove of a novel. Its beautifully integrated parts fit inside one another like the talismanic pendant/ locket at the heart of several love stories. Where the opening chapters evoke the nightmare of Europe in the aftermath of World War II with the hallucinatory vividness of Anselm Kiefer’s disturbing canvases, the concluding chapters, set decades before, in a more seemingly innocent time in the early 20th century, are a bittersweet evocation, in miniature, of thwarted personal destinies that yet yield to something like cultural triumph. Ayelet Waldman is not afraid to create characters for whom we feel an urgency of emotion, and she does not resolve what is unresolvable in this ambitious, absorbing and poignantly moving work of fiction.”
—Joyce Carol Oates

“One is quickly caught up in Love and Treasure with its shifting tones and voices—at times a document, a thriller, a love story, a search—telescoping time backwards and forwards to vividly depict a story found in the preludes and then the after-effects of the Holocaust. Waldman gives us remarkable characters in a time of complex and surprising politics.”
—Michael Ondaatje

“Love and Treasure is like the treasure train it chases: fast-paced, bound by a fierce mission, full of bright secrets and racingly, relentlessly moving.”
—Daniel Handler

“Complex and thoughtful, moving and carefully researched, this is a novel to love and treasure.”
—Philippa Gregory

“This lush, multigenerational tale… traces the path of a single pendant…. Inventively told from multiple perspectives, Waldman’s latest is a seductive reflection on just how complicated the idea of ‘home’ is–and why it is worth more than treasure.”
—Publishers Weekly

“A sensitive and heartbreaking portrayal of love, politics, and family secrets . . . Waldman’s appealing novel recalls the film The Red Violin in its following of this all-important object through various periods in history and through many owners. Fans of historical fiction will love the compelling characters and the leaps backward and forward in time.”
—Mariel Pachucki, Library Journal

Author Ayelet Waldman, Biography~

Ayelet Waldman: Photo Credit Reenie Raschke

Ayelet Waldman: Photo Credit Reenie Raschke

Ayelet Waldman is the author of the newly released Love and Treasure (Knopf, January 2014), Red Hook Road, and The New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was made into a film starring Natalie Portman.

Her personal essays and profiles of such public figures as Hillary Clinton have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Vogue, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her radio commentaries have appeared on “All Things Considered” and “The California Report.”

For more information please visit Ayelet’s website. Her missives also appear on Facebook and Twitter.

Her books are published throughout the world, in countries as disparate as England and Thailand, the Netherlands and China, Russia and Israel, Korea and Italy.

Tour Schedule:

Tour Hashtag: #LoveandTreasureBlogTour
04_Love and Treasure_Tour Banner_FINAL


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