A Jewish family’s courageous defiance of the Nazis in German-occupied Paris sets the stage for a tale of intrigue and danger in Grubman’s debut novel.
In 1942, Mori Rothstein is a successful French art dealer whose clients include some of the wealthiest families in the City of Light. His expertise in the works of the masters has gained him a loyal following and has given him the means to provide for his family. Things change suddenly, however, when Hermann Goering—the head of the Nazi Gestapo and one of the most feared men alive—seeks out Mori’s knowledge. Adolf Hitler is eager to open a museum in Austria that will feature the most renowned works of classical art, and Goering makes it clear that Mori has no choice but to cooperate with him on the project. Mori must help to identify the most prized paintings for Hitler’s museum or be deported. This is easier said than done, however, as German soldiers have already amassed a vast quantity of stolen art, and more arrives every day. After Mori begins to recognize artworks that he sold to others long ago, he devises a daring plan with the help of his son, Émile, to smuggle the precious paintings out of the Nazis’ clutches. But after a high-ranking German officer is killed, the Rothsteins find themselves on the run. The descriptions of life in Paris under Nazi rule are evocative and frightening: “As they headed toward the Tuileries, Émile wondered why that soldier kept following the two of them.” Grubman’s portrayals of his characters are complex and realistic; Mori’s wife, Ruth, for example, ends up playing a critical and satisfying role in the family’s fate. The dialogue feels intimate and conversational, as if one is privy to secret conversations. In one particularly suspenseful scene, Mori attempts to fool Goering with a forgery of a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. As the Nazi takes his time inspecting the sketch, readers will hold their breath: “Mori felt his throat constrict. He’s taking too long, he thought.”
A dark, gripping historical thriller.