Set in a Paris darkened by World War II, Sara Houghteling’s debut novel tells the story of a son’s quest to recover his family’s lost masterpieces, looted by the Nazis during the occupation.
Born to an art dealer and his pianist wife, Max Berenzon is forbidden from entering the family business for reasons he cannot understand. He reluctantly attends medical school, reserving his true passion for his father’s beautiful and brilliant gallery assistant, Rose Clément. When Paris falls to the Nazis, the Berenzons survive in hiding. They return in 1944 to find that their priceless collection has vanished: gone are the Matisses, the Picassos, and a singular Manet of mysterious importance. Madly driven to recover his father’s paintings, Max navigates a torn city of corrupt art dealers, black marketers, Résistants, and collaborators. His quest will reveal the tragic disappearance of his closest friend, the heroism of his lost love, and the truth behind a devastating family secret.
This debut novel was a wonderfully written story about love and art and loss that somehow failed to make an emotional connection. Though I was pulled into the narrative, I found myself caring more about the art than the personal lives of the characters. Perhaps the author was trying to convey the coldness of war, but I found myself feeling isolated from the characters. There was great potential in this novel, and the writing was exquisite, but in the end I just wasn't invested enough in it to consider it a must-read.