first edition | proseby ayelet waldman
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Love & Treasure
by ayelet waldman
Jack Wiseman is a Jewish Army lieutenant stationed in postwar Salzburg, Austria, who falls in love with Ilona, a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust.
If the wild revelry going on right now in the DP camp was what Purim was like, Jack had had no idea what he was missing. The roadways and paths of the Muelln camp, a former army barracks, were teeming with people in costumes and masks. There were jesters and queens, leopards, witches, and Cossacks. One young man had scavenged most of an SS uniform, complete with cap and death’s-head insignia. He had padded out the seat of his gray jodhpurs with a pillow, and he carried a wooden paddle that he offered to passersby, inviting them to land a hefty wallop on his behind. With every blow he would fling himself down into the dirt, feigning agony, howling for his “Mama Adolf ” to save him.
As Jack watched the crowd stream through the pathways, in their motley and ghoulish giddiness, he felt his own spirits lift. Somebody handed him a tin cup filled with some unholy brew of K ration lemon-drink powder and grain alcohol. He drank it all and searched the painted faces for Ilona’s. He mooched a refill of his cup from a passing girl with a pitcher and climbed up onto the roof of a porch of one of the barracks, where he could see the parade that was about to begin.
The camp orchestra led the way, a battered hodgepodge of clarinetists and violinists, bassoonists and saxophonists, many of the finest lights of European classical music, playing a raucous version, half polka, half circus, of John Philip Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell.” They flung their legs about in a parody of the goose step as the spectators clapped their hands along with the music. Next came the Muelln Football Club in homemade uniforms, their muscular legs extending from their shorts, followed closely behind by a team of teenage gymnasts, boys and girls, turning cartwheels down the parade route. Jack peered at the next group to be sure that his eyes were not clouded by alcohol. There was no mistaking the small group of tiny people, waist-high adults bedecked in matching lederhosen, the women with their hair hidden beneath cloth caps. The Seven Dwarfs, but without their Snow White. Every group in the parade carried a gaudy hand-lettered banner: the needleworkers’ union, the trade school students, the hospital staff. A group of young people wearing shorts and sandals inadequate to the March cold bore a banner proclaiming themselves members of the youth group Betar. Then came the kindergarten, the children hopping delightedly from foot to foot, running this way and that, barely able even to keep to the parade route, let alone march. In their midst, was Ilona. A gaily patterned kerchief covered her head, and she wore a matching apron. She’d braided her hair in two pigtails that stood out crookedly from beneath the kerchief. She’d drawn large freckles across her nose and painted a bright red cupid’s bow over her pale lips. She wore two different striped stockings, one red, one black.
Jack swallowed the last of his drink, climbed down from the roof, and ducked through the crowd until he caught up with the parade. He called to her. At the sound of her name she scanned the crowd.
“Ilona!” he shouted again. He wormed his way through the crowd until he reached the edge of the parade. She disentangled her hand from that of one of the small children who clung to it and waved him over. He plunged in. He wanted to take her in his arms, but the parade in which they both now marched propelled him forward.
She smiled. “Happy holiday, Jack,” she said in Hebrew.
At the end of the parade route, a bearded rabbi stood on a stage erected in the middle of what had been the mustering grounds of the barracks that once occupied this site. The rabbi lifted his hand for silence, and despite their varying levels of intoxication, the large crowd quieted. He took a small leather-bound volume out of the pocket of his suit jacket and began to chant the first chapter of the Book of Esther. Each time the rabbi chanted “Haman,” the crowd erupted in boos and hoots. Children banged cymbals fashioned of pot lids or beat sticks together. By the end of the rabbi’s reading, the crowd was delirious with a rage-fueled joy.
The speakers came next, various camp dignitaries and officials, who decried the beast of Germany and recalled the Purims of previous years, when there had been little hope that the prophecy of Ezekiel would come to fruition, that the dry bones of Israel would live again.
The speeches showed no sign of winding down, and Jack was wondering how he would get Ilona alone when she grabbed his hand.
“Come with me!” she said.
Excerpted from Love & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman. Copyright © 2014 by Ayelet Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC.
Ayelet Waldman is the author of “Daughter’s Keeper“ and the “Mommy-Track” mystery series. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Believer, Child magazine and other publications, and she has a regular column on Salon.com. She and her husband, novelist Michael Chabon, live in Berkeley with their four children.
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