The Golden Peacock, by Lauren B. Grossman is billed as a story of the Holocaust, and the author calls it “faction” — a blend of history and fiction. It’s unclear how much of this story is true, and it would be interesting to find out, but it contains a good bit that couldn’t be true.
I came to The Golden Peacock expecting the protagonist (actually one of two protagonists) to have been imprisoned in a concentration camp. She isn’t, but still suffers as a result of the Holocaust. I liked the start of the book — about a young girl and her brother who are forced to flee with their family from Germany to the Netherlands, and then to England. Jana is separated from her family and then her brother, when she is shipped to Britain in a Kindertransport.
This is another one of those stories that goes back and forth between the past and past –World War II and 1997. It’s never a good idea, in my view, but in this book it’s never clear why the girl who flees Germany (and now has Alzheimer’s) is writing. Her story disappears about two thirds of the way through the book, and it’s kind of disturbing, since the book completely changes direction from historical fiction to some sort of spy thriller. The first part of the book is much better.
But there’s another glaring problem with the book — there’s almost no description in any of it. It’s dialogue heavy, which is okay in a plot heavy book like this one, but more than occasionally annoying. Also, some of the backstory for the more modern protagonist doesn’t seem to relate to the story.
But I kept reading.
The author begins the story by explaining how Rainee (the other protagonist in the book) is inspired by a card she receives at the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. Having visited the Holocaust museum, I know it provides each visitor with a card with the basic information about one victim of the Holocaust. Rainee puts the card away for a few years. Then, when she is looking for an idea for a new story, (she is already a successful author), she pulls out the card, and reads that the subject in question relocated to England. Then she conveniently manages a trip to England with a friend, and starts searching for a Holocaust victim who was born 30 years to the day before Rainee.
She finds her, in a nursing home, suffering from “early-onset Alzheimers.” Miraculously, over the course of the book, Rainee seems to cure Jana, getting her to discuss her history and open up in other ways. She also starts a love relationship with the man who runs the nursing home.
This is all well and good. But when the Simon Weisenthal Center (a Nazi hunting group that was well known in the 80s and 90s) gets involved, things start to go awry. Jana’s narrative of the war disappears and we are instead treated to a discourse between a psychiatrist Jana doesn’t like and his father, whom Rainee suspects of being a Nazi.
Without giving away spoilers, it is impossible to explain how preposterous much of this book is, especially the ending. And yes, there is a “surprise” ending, which I didn’t find very satisfying but rather convenient.
Still, the day after finishing the book, I found myself thinking about it, which says something about its gripping nature. I reviewed the Golden Peacock at the request of the author, who provided a free copy of the book.