In Hoppenstein’s novel of historical fiction set in post-World War II Argentina, a group of ex-pat Europeans struggle to keep their secrets safe.
In the mid-1930s, certain wealthy Jewish families in Europe become aware of the growing anti-Semitism and political instability in the region, and decide to transfer some of their material assets to an Italian bank. The bank then moves its headquarters to Buenos Aires. After the war, the jewels, cash and paintings fall into legal limbo as the families’ loyalties shift and control of the bank ends up in untrustworthy hands. In addition to the financial and legal drama, many major plot points hinge upon romantic entanglements. Minor characters take center stage for brief chapters as dishwashers become courtesans, journalists become pimps, married men take on lovers and jilted lovers find old passions rekindled. With the subject of post-war allegiances and betrayals, Hoppenstein has found an interesting premise upon which to base his novel, and the various entanglements of the characters—the illegitimate children, the transnational love affairs—are enjoyable side tales that enrich the story. But the main drama surrounding the hidden treasures loses much of its power in comparison to these light, human stories on the periphery. This is largely because the legal and financial intricacies of the plot ultimately prove too complex to follow, and the climactic courtroom battle does little to tie things together. The prose could use some final polish—the author has a distracting fondness for ellipses and a habit of inserting foreign phrases that may frustrate some readers. The dialogue often feels stilted, with characters saying, “As you know,” and then dictating background details for the benefit of the reader—who would certainly prefer a smoother method of explanation.
Intriguing subplots and juicy entanglements enliven a story of financial and legal misdeeds, making a story of complex yet all-too-human motivations.