An ancient antiquarian in Zurich is held accountable at the end of her life for the wicked tactics she used to survive and prosper in wartime Berlin.
Novelist, historian, and journalist Pye (Taking Lives, 1999, etc.) does slow, relentless, and at last great justice to this fact-based story of greed, theft, and betrayal and the glamorous Milanese woman around whom it’s all spun. Opening with a funeral in the chill of present-day Switzerland, Pye sets out the wanderings and musings of Nicholas Müller-Rossi, whose estranged father has just died. Unwelcomed by his half-family, Nicholas, a retired academician, nevertheless attends the rite, remembering his Swiss father’s brief closeness before the war and how the restlessness of his mother Lucia, an Italian, separated them forever. Lucia lives on. Now in her 90s, she presides over her shop of luxurious antiques and art objects, a respected if not loved pillar of the mercantile community. Her rotten business and moral underpinnings are, however, about to be exposed. Nicholas’s daughter Helen encounters an elderly woman in tears in front of Lucia’s elegant shop. It’s Sarah Freeman, whom Lucia knew and betrayed as Sarah Lindemann: the immensely pretty and valuable marquetry table in the window was stolen from Sarah in the last furious days of the Reich. Helen’s attempts to pry the story out of the bitterly reticent Sarah ultimately involve her father Nicholas and also Peter Clarke, another wartime survivor with a bitter story. Her efforts further involve the local legal machinery, and what emerges is the truth of Lucia’s life as a demimondaine in Hitler’s capital, along with all the details of how she came into possession, if not ownership, of a fortune in art and antiques, spirited her loot out of Germany, and set up a life for herself and the schoolboy son who saw but did not yet understand all she did. Did she do any of it for Nicholas? Or was it all for Lucia? Is justice still achievable? Or desirable?
To be read and savored before it’s ruined as a movie.