I think the balance of this book was off. I know that an argument will be made that O’Connor needs to set up the historical circumstances in order for her readers to appreciate and understand the complications involved in restoring art stolen during WW2 to its rightful owners or their descendants. Yet this makes up only the last third of the book. O’Connor casts her net too wide and attempts to characterize everyone – including Vienna (very much a character in this story) – with equal depth. Some of the research, including the horrendous fates of some of these people seemed gratuitous.
Like Violins of Hope, this book leaves unexplored the idea of privilege. In a time when efforts were being made by some to save as many as possible, was any thought given to the focused efforts to save the elite (musicians, artists, etc.)? I am not saying it was wrong – far from it. I am just saying that it is worth some pages.
I have always been taught that writers need to make clear who a story belongs to. And that’s not clear here. I can live with a huge cast of characters, but what is O’Connor’s purpose for this story? Who’s story is she telling? What story is she telling? There is not really a line through the book; it reads more like a variety of related narratives somewhat forced together.
At a time when so few survivors remain, I think we should concentrate on capturing their stories. The art angle is interesting (see also Monuments Men) and Klimt is interesting and Vienna is interesting, but in this arrangement, it seems too contrived.
Time for another break from WW2-related reading.