The Courage of Ayelet Waldman
It takes courage to leave your successful law career to focus on family and then to shift careers and re-enter the workforce as a writer. It takes courage to write novel after novel unmasking the often tormented nature of mother-love. It takes courage to publicly declare you love your husband more than your children. And, it takes courage to write a follow up collection of essays mining the complexity of motherhood knowing you will face scorn and derision for speaking your truth. But it took all of Ayelet Waldman’s courage to finally write about the Holocaust.
“I waited nearly twenty years to tackle the subject because I knew I wasn’t ready either as a writer or as person,” she told the large audience in attendance at last night’s Peninsula Parlour held in Palo Alto.
Born in Israel, but raised in Canada and the United States, Ayelet explained, “There have been so many stories about the one good German or about redemption after the horror of the Holocaust. I wanted to write a novel that offered a more complex look at what Jews experienced. When I discovered the history behind the Hungarian Gold Train I knew had something that would allow me to tell the story I wanted to write.”
Heading from Hungary to Germany in 1945, the Gold Train was seized by American troops and, as Ayelet writes in her new novel, Love and Treasure, was filled with:
“1,500 cases of watches, jewelry, and sliver, 5,250 carpets, thousands of coats and stoles and muffs of mink fox,s an ermine, crate of microscopes and cameras, porcelain and glassware, furniture, books, and manuscripts, and tapestries, gold coins and bullion, the few remaining precious gems, the liturgical objects, the stamp collections and silver-backed hairbrushes: al the items, valuable and less so, that constituted the wealth of the Jews of Hungary, 437,402 of whom had been deported to Auschwitz over the course of just 56 days..”
Like the diaspora of the European Jews, Love and Treasure is written in three fragmented parts that span over one hundred years and is only held together by a talismanic pendant with a bejeweled peacock on its face, one of the many spoils of the Gold Train.
What makes her novel truly powerful is Ayelet’s willingness to question the modern understanding of what it means to be a Jew, the complex agendas and tactics used to found the nation of Israel, and the concept of rightful ownership of both the objects and experiences of World War II.
Since the book’s debut, Ayelet, yet again, is facing a media storm. She has been accused of being an anti-semite and, conversely, an anti-Zionist. At least, she is no longer being accused of being a bad mother.
“I knew tackling these issues would cause a swell of response,” Ayelet said, “but I felt ready for it. I could have written another story about motherhood, I know it so well now, but there is a freedom in writing what you don’t know, even if there will be consequences.”
As the recently deceased Maya Angelo once said,
“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.”
Thankfully, Ayelet Waldman is filled with both.