During World War II, the Nazis easily stole valuable artworks, furniture, and silver from Goodman, who has spent two difficult decades trying to recover them.
The author’s German family, who originally spelled the surname “Gutmann,” were wealthy bankers beginning in the 19th century. In his affecting debut, Goodman, whose earlier career was in the music industry, traces their history, recording that his great-great-grandfather lived in a Dresden castle. The author spends several chapters talking about the financial rise of the family, who once employed Joseph Goebbels in a bank branch. Goodman’s immediate family moved to the Netherlands and lived outside Amsterdam in an estate called Bosbeek, a place the author recalls as having “an almost magical quality.” Then came the Nazis. Goodman rehearses much of the social and military history of the time, tells us about the deaths of relatives in the camps, and describes in excruciating detail how his family lost everything. Going through a box of his late father’s belongings, he discovered the story of his father’s generally fruitless attempt to recover his family’s treasures. Soon, the author and his brother embarked on a long, tempestuous voyage of their own, encountering reluctance, disrespect, doubt, denial, and coldhearted crassness along the way. Throughout the book, Sotheby’s does not come off well. Goodman’s story is alternately wrenching and inspiring, though the diction is often clichéd: writing is on the wall, people hope for the best, places are hell on earth. These locutions often drag this extraordinary story down to the ordinary. Readers will see allusions to many familiar persons and events here: Anne Frank, the Monuments Men, and the works of Degas, Renoir, Botticelli, and numerous other artists. We also learn of some internecine Goodman family squabbles.
An emotional tale of unspeakable horrors, family devotion, and art as a symbol of hope.