Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pictures of the Past by Deby Eisenberg

Pictures of the Past by Deby Eisenberg
Studio House Literary
ISBN: 978-0615483122
Published: August 9, 2011
Trade Paperback, 376 pages

Pictures of the Past is a multi-layered story spanning several generations (from 1937 to 2005) taking readers back to pre-World War II Europe, where Taylor Woodmere, a wealthy American philanthropist travels to Paris and then Germany on business and meets the beautiful Sarah Berger, with whom he falls in love. But Sarah is Jewish and her family gets caught up in the Holocaust after Taylor returns to Chicago. The story alternates between the present and the past. Interwoven in the narrative is also the story of another Jewish girl, Rachel Gold, that takes place in the 1970s, and who is also connected to the Woodmeres. Ultimately, the story comes together at the end in a satisfying way.

Pictures of the Past is a beautiful story, sometimes heartbreaking but also triumphant. The time period of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, the love story between Taylor and Sarah, and a particular Impressionist painting that Taylor leaves with Sarah all work to create a compelling story. Initially, the jumping back and forth between several characters and time periods took getting used to even though I don't mind this in a novel. However, the story really took off for me only one-third into the book. I was distracted in the beginning by the third person omniscient point of view, which I discovered is not my favorite, and the overuse of adjectives and elipses. There is only so much I can take of being told over and over how incredibly handsome or gorgeous a character is. I also found the dialogue unrealistic at times.

But once I made it past this, I found that in the last two-thirds of the book the writing got better and I was caught up in Taylor's search for Sarah and her family, and the way Sarah changed and survived. Taylor's choices, some good and some not, affected his family life and this feeling of regret never left him. His last act as patriarch of his family was heartwarming and redeeming.

I was particularly interested in the historical sea voyage of the St-Louis that took Jewish refugees all the way to Cuba and America only to be denied entrance. This was a historical fact I had not heard of before and I like learning new things when I read a fiction novel. I also appreciated that the author portrayed realistic situations right to the end. Her pride in her Jewish culture comes through and helps the reader understand the bond that exists in the Jewish community. I also liked reading the author's historical notes at the end of the book.

If you like stories connected to the Holocaust and how they affect lives across continents and time, you will enjoy this debut novel. It portrays the power of first love, regret over parental responsibilities, and pride in one's heritage.

Note: This book is rated C = clean read. The descriptions of the Holocaust are general and no violent scenes are portrayed.
I will count this book toward the following challenges: A - Z Book Challenge, TBR Pile Reading Challenge

Reviewed by Laura

Disclosure: Thanks to the author and Pump Up Your Book Promotions  for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.

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