Pictures at an Exhibition
Knopf, Jan 20 2009, $24.95
In Paris, Max Berenzon attends medical school though he has no desire to be a doctor; in fact he wants to join his father’s business and eventually take over the art gallery, but his dad Daniel rejects his desire. Max is also attracted the gallery’s assistant, Rose Clement.
When the Nazis occupy Paris, the Jewish Berenzon family goes into hiding in a wine cellar far away from the city. They leave behind priceless paintings. In 1944, with Paris liberated, Max and Daniel learn of the looting of their masterpieces. Max vows to recover the stolen paintings. As he scours the legitimate but crooked dealers, the black marketers, and the Nazi sympathizers, he also seeks Rose.
The key to this excellent look at the missing after WWII Nazi ethnic cleansing is the little innuendoes and hints of anti-Semitism, clues to stolen masterpieces, and insightful angst over not knowing what happened to loved ones but sadly confident whatever occurred was not good. Max makes the tale work as he comes out of the war and his cellar obsessed with finding his father’s art collection and Rose while learning paragons of society possess some of his family’s masterpieces. Readers will relish traveling France with him as Sarah Houghteling paints a hunting picture of post war Western Europe.