Pictures of the Past
Pictures of the Past is a compelling saga sweeping through Chicago, Paris and Berlin, reliving events from pre-World War II Europe, but beginning in contemporary times. An Impressionist painting, hanging for decades in the Art Institute of Chicago and donated by the charismatic philanthropist Taylor Woodmere, is challenged by an elderly woman as a Nazi theft. Taylor’s gripping and passionate story takes us back to 1937. Sent to Paris on family business, he reluctantly leaves his girlfriend Emily, a spoiled debutante from Newport, Rhode Island. But once in Europe, he immediately falls in love – first with an Henri Lebasque painting, and then with the enchanting Sarah Berger of Berlin. After Taylor returns home, the Berger family becomes trapped in the Nazi web, and any attempts for the new lovers to be reunited are thwarted.
Interwoven with this narrative is the story of Rachel Gold, a beautiful and bright Chicago girl caught up in the times of the late 1960’s. Pregnant and abandoned by her boyfriend Court Woodmere, Taylor’s son, she moves to New York to live with her aunt, a Holocaust survivor. Years later, as the controversy surrounding the provenance of the painting becomes public, Rachel’s grown son is disturbed by his inexplicable familiarity with the work of art. And it is only Taylor Woodmere who can unravel the complicated puzzle of their lives.
With a heart-grabbing ending, Pictures of the Past is historical fiction at its best, giving a personalized window to the powerful events and intriguing venues of the eras. From a world torn by the horrors of war, a love story emerges that endures through years of separation.
“With a captivating storyline that alternates between characters and time periods, Pictures of the Past grabs the reader from the beginning and sustains a heightened interest and curiosity level throughout. Vividly depicted venues and a tapestry of engaging scenes of dialogue, move the reader easily as one era melds into the next. It approaches the most serious subject of the Holocaust with vibrancy and heart. The language is rich with imagery, extreme pathos and yet lightness, as well. The characterizations are beautifully drawn out, making the reader better understand horrific events of global proportion through identification and empathy with individual experiences.”
“This novel is one of the most intriguing and beautiful books that I have ever read. . . . The ending of this book will touch your heart. Pictures of the Past is a wonderful work of historical fiction. The writing is first class with a look into the times right before World War II and looking into the lives and events of the era from a time filled with horror and hate. The love story of Taylor and Sarah lasts through all the years of separation.”
—Mary Lignor, Bookpleasures.com (Read full review.)
“This was a great researched historical novel. As a reader you are drawn into the book and you truly feel like you are there. The author also did an amazing job at bringing together a list of characters that were so memorable. The book also was a fun, intriguing tale that kept me engaged and interested from the first to last page.”
—C. Lewis, DadOfDivas.com Blog (Read full review.)
“Pictures of the Past is a provocative saga that takes the reader on a journey through Chicago, Paris and Berlin—a literary time travel from pre-World War II Europe intertwined with contemporary times. As a lover of art, the novel is passionately wrapped around the history of an Impressionist painting, that brings lovers together, apart, and eventually together again. Eisenberg's tale fills the senses—evoking a feeling of being right there with her characters. One is transported through time and place effortlessly. Her story is gripping, and one that I read while on vacation, and couldn't put down long after my family was sleeping. It calls to mind the rich tapestry of a Belva Plain novel—which I would read voraciously in my youth. I highly recommend this book for those who like to lose themselves within the pages...”
— Lisa Barr, Author of Fugitive Colors
Pictures of the Past Amazon Reviews
By Julie D. K.: (5.0 out of 5 stars) I just finished Pictures of the Past and loved it!! I have read several books covering this period of history and this particular story was unique, creative, original and so heartfelt.
This is a story that will fill your heart and resonate deeply within your thoughts. A great read.
By L.I. LINDA: (5.0 out of 5 stars) I am absolutely stunned at how much I enjoyed reading this book. Each section drove me deeper into the story. I hated to get to the end and will save and reread it again.
By judithwyckoff: (5.0 out of 5 stars) Good story well written. I liked it much more than The Hare With the Amber eyes. Engaging story, a very good read.
By evergreenevermore: (5.0 out of 5 stars) Pictures of the Past is a romance that skillfully moves back and forth through time to trace the history of a single painting, and its impact on two American and German families. It reminds us of the horrors of the war, and the lasting impact of the atrocities on survivors here and abroad. Ms. Eisenberg weaves a tale that is at once a love story and a history lesson. I didn't want to put it down. Pictures of the Past
By L P: Although it took me a while to keep the characters sorted out, I enjoyed the story line and the history in the story.
By Rhonda S: This is a wonderful, well-written story that takes you on an emotional journey. It encompasses stories of love, obligation and doing the right thing. You won't be disappointed.
By Nancy O: A very fast read. The story was intriguing though not posable.did love that it took place in Chicago, Paris and Berlin. I felt I knew the places and the people. A very fast read.
By Adele K: (5.0 out of 5 stars) This book brings the reader right into the time, either in Eastern Europe in 1937 or in present day in the U.S, and holds your attention throughout. The author includes the horrors of the Holocaust and the voyage of the St. Louis, which was to take Jewish refugees to Cuba and then to America, but this ship with its Jewish passengers was fated from the start and neither Cuba nor the U.S. would allow the passengers to disembark, and the ship returned to Europe. The love story between Sarah, who is Jewish, and Taylor, who meets Sarah on a business trip to Paris is beautifully written. I was not able to put this book down, and it was well worth the read. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
By Dr. Gail L: (5.0 out of 5 stars) A vivid picture of several individuals in the past......WWII era up to the near present. I'd like to read more novels by Deby Eisenberg
By Supersecdd: This is a touching intergenerational love story set amid the Holocaust. I could not wait to find out what happened to all the characters. I would have enjoyed a longer story.
By Calireader: (5.0 out of 5 stars) I am always in the market for well written and accurate historical fiction. I loved this book, it was poetic, descriptive, sad, and at the same time heartwarming. The characters and their stories are beautifully written and I was saddened when it came to an end. Looking forward to reading more books by this author, hopefully soon.
By P. O. "Pat O": (5.0 out of 5 stars) I hope Deby keeps writing. What a fabulous first book. She is a terrific new historical fiction author who does a good job of character building.
By kasnyp: (5.0 out of 5 stars) I really enjoyed this book. I would highly recommend it especially for those who do not like books with vile language and vivid sexual descriptions. You won't find that in this well written novel. The weaving together of these characters with the time of pre-WW2 with the present was very interesting and was hard to put down. Good and memorable read.
By cishore: (5.0 out of 5 stars) My book club read this book and all of the women enjoyed it very much. It is a fast read as you don't want to put it down. Great story!
By 2galsmommy: (5.0 out of 5 stars) As an avid 31 year old reader I have never before felt compelled to write a review...until now. This book was amazing. Everything I hope for in a novel...romance and history so beautifully intertwined. So very touching and surely a book I will treasure.
By syril: (5.0 out of 5 stars) This is the best book that I have ever read. I am a retired school teacher and my hobby is reading new authors' books. The author is insightful and interesting. It is an intriguing history lesson that takes place during one of the world’s darkest times.
By D. P. "Deborah/The Bookish Dame": (5.0 out of 5 stars) When I first decided I'd like to review "Pictures of the Past" I had some hesitation. I've read an assortment of books covering the holocaust over the last 40 some years, and felt I may have met my capacity with them. The stories often left me with a heaviness of heart. I'd lived most of my growing up years in Germany, even went to college in Munich, Germany, at the University of Maryland's extension campus, so it's a country that's very dear to my heart, and a people I'd come to love, as well. It has been difficult to separate the Nazi's from the kind people of Germany I'd come to know. I'm glad I did take a chance on this particular book, however, because it beautifully balances the good and the ugly. It tells a story that gives the safe and lovely side of a life in Berlin, and then the rising of an extremist group that overtakes the country like locust. I loved this book.
From the earliest words, Deby Eisenberg captured my heart. I could hear the inflection of the grandmother's voice. I could feel her indignation and her ire rising, and I could nearly sense the touches of her grand and great grandchildren as they gathered around to comfort her. Eisenberg is a masterful writer. She makes her story not only ring with truth, but resound with the vision of a cast of characters that you can well image actually existed.
The love story interwoven within the historical mysteries of the book are engrossing. I was so happy to read the details of transatlantic voyages, the beautiful cities both European and American of the pre-WW !! era, and the very interesting comments about Nazi art thefts. The mystery that's presented of old lovers, the painting's travels, and a family whose lives were changed by the Nazi terror is mesmerizing.
It goes without saying that I highly recommend "Pictures of the Past" to everyone. It's a great book on this era from several perspectives. Beautifully written, it's a timeless love story that's anchored by a painting that's etched in the minds of the lovers.
By P. W. "Broken Teepee": (5.0 out of 5 stars) This was a very arresting book. It very expertly wove together the stories of parents and children tied together by WWII and an Impressionist painting that may or may not be stolen. The story begins with an investigation into a painting seen at the Chicago Institute of Art by a survivor of the Holocaust who insists that it could not belong to the family that donated it - she had seen it hanging in the home of Jewish friends in Berlin before Hitler did his worst.
From that point on the story weaves back and forth between three periods in time and various members of the two families explaining their pasts and their present. At no time does the moving around in time get confusing - it is done so seamlessly. Nor do you lose track of any of the myriad of characters; they all have such a powerful presence it's hard to forget them from chapter to chapter.
I was truly enthralled with the characters and with this story. It's really more of a love story, not a war story and it is the different tales of love and sacrifice that drive the novel forward. Once I started reading I had a very hard time putting it down. It's a book that deserves a second reading.
By Kathleen K. "Celticlady": It is amazing to me that something that is an idea can evolve into a wonderful story. I admire an author that can take the idea and run with it. That to me is what Pictures of the Past is, a very well researched story that may be fiction but certainly could have been very real. A story told in different times, before and during WWII, in the 70's, 80's and then in the 2000's. With the different time frames and characters you would think the story would be confusing throughout but that is not the case. The story comes together seamlessly by the ending. To me that is the mark of a great author, to be able to keep the reader interested to the final page. Pictures of the Past tells the story of how war affects all those involved. How a race of people can be so bitter and hateful towards the Jews is beyond my scope of understanding.. I know this has all happened but the atrocities that were perpetuated are just beyond comprehension. The time and research involved can definitely be seen in the writing, the characters the reader can relate to and a story well worth the time to read. An amazing debut novel from Deby Eisenberg.I loved this story and highly recommend it. I hope to read more of Ms. Eisenberg's work.
By Books in the Burbs: (5.0 out of 5 stars) Because my book club is reading Sarah's Key for our Book of The Month, I wasn't really looking forward to another WWII/Holocaust story. However, I loved this book!! Deby Eisenberg's writing style reminds me of Jodi Picoult's. Each chapter tells a story from a different characters perspective, in a different time period, with there being quite a few characters to keep up with. However, it is all leading up to the merging of these characters and how they are all connected.
In Sarah's Key, I didn't feel that I had closure with the main character and I was left with more questions than resolution. However, in Pictures of the Past, I felt that Deby brings the characters full circle without it being too unrealistic or too perfect. I loved the descriptiveness of each scene and the beauty brought out during a time of war. For example, Sarah takes Taylor to all her favorite shops and sees past the markings of hatred the Nazi's wrote across Jewish shops/businesses. It was in the simple things mentioned that made me fall in love with the characters. I didn't feel a sense of rushing through different character's chapters, like I did with Sarah's Key. I loved reading about each perspective and life story and towards the end of the book, it all came together beautifully.
This is a beautiful story, very well written, and deserves to be recognized as a great Historical literary book. I highly suggest this book and encourage you to add this to your must read book list!
By hve: (5.0 out of 5 stars) Pictures of the Past by Deby Eisenberg is a wonderful read. It is more than a mystery, it is more than a love story. There is history and real nuanced characters. Once I started reading, I was totally captivated. I loved the switching back and forth between characters as well as the times and Deby did this so skillfully that the reader is never confused. This is a great story and thoroughly enjoyable. I highly recommend! Harlie
Writing this novel has been a fascinating journey, where a relaxing project became a consuming passion. Attending the Santa Barbara and New York’s Book Expo Writers’ Conferences early in the book’s development, I was truly surprised and validated by the encouragement of writing colleagues and publishing professionals. During the process, I met and corresponded with two extremely talented writers, Tatiana deRosnay, author of Sarah’s Key, and Betsy Carter, author of The Puzzle King, who so graciously provided me with their contacts. The enthusiasm for the story from Mitchell Levin of DreamWorks was one more step in keeping my dream alive. Much thanks to respected editor Ann Patty, who has worked with such esteemed novels as Jenna Blum’s, Those Who Save Us, and who helped to identify areas to expand in the narrative of Pictures of the Past.
I am especially thankful for the love and support of my family as I worked on the book– my husband Michael, our children and their spouses, Carlee and Keith Londo, Rob Eisenberg, Chad and Abby Eisenberg, and our grandchildren, my littlest inspirations, Skylar and Jace Londo. I was guided in my endeavor always by the memory of my beautiful, supportive parents, Berdie and Bernie Rothblatt, and I actually began the novel as a diversion to cope with the untimely loss of my brother Steve, a highly regarded director at the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, and a loving husband and father.
I am forever grateful to more than one hundred readers, friends and relatives (and their friends and relatives) from the Chicago area, Florida, New York, France, Germany, and Israel, who anxiously asked for their turn with the manuscript and so enthusiastically embraced the story that it compelled me to follow it through to publication. Although many people deserve to be listed by name, a special thanks to the encouragement of my very earliest audiences, my husband, of course, Judy Farby, Essie Landsman and Stan Stein who indulged me to read it aloud to them over iced tea breaks, and Gail and Bruce Greenspahn, our traveling companions, who followed Taylor’s adventures as we had our own.
In researching the people and periods covered in Pictures of the Past, I must give credit to the following: The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center; The Art Institute of Chicago; Refuge Denied, by Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie; Rise and Fall of the Nazis, by Claire Welch; Jews in Berlin, edited by Andreas Nachama, Julius H. Schoeps and Hermann Simon, English translation 2002 by Henschel Verlag; Inside Hitler’s Germany, Life Under the Third Reich, by Matthew Hughes and Chris Mann; Can It Happen Again? Chronicles of the Holocaust, edited by Roselle K. Chartock and Jack Spencer; The Holocaust Chronicle, Louis Weber, publisher; Memories of My Early Life in Germany 1926-1946, by Ralph Neuman, and We Survived, Berlin Jews Underground, by Inge Deutschkron.
While the general framework of the story for Pictures of the Past played for me as a movie in my mind, oftentimes my characters, mainly Taylor and Sarah, told me what would happen as the story unfolded. And this was especially true for the incorporation of the St. Louis episode. Some years ago, our friend Steven Safran, in relating to us his treasured family history regarding his grandmother, Dorothea Heymann, who had been a passenger on the ship, must have placed the kernel of an idea in my mind. When I reached the point of the story where Sarah and her mother Inga sought to escape Germany, I was drawn to the St. Louis along with them. It happened that I had become aware of a lecture regarding the historic voyage scheduled at Chicago’s Spertus College of Judaica, where the speaker was Scott Miller, director of the Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Holocaust Survivors at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I was not surprised to see the Safran family in the audience, as well. Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie, director of the National Institute for Holocaust Education at the museum, had researched the fates of all nine hundred thirty-seven passengers on the doomed voyage of May, 1939, in their book Refuge Denied. I owe a special debt of gratitude to them, as I found their work both informative and inspirational. Sadly, Dorothea Heymann was among the two hundred and fifty-four passengers who did not survive the Holocaust when the St. Louis was turned back to Europe from Cuba and America. Dorothea, Steve’s maternal grandmother, went first to Holland and eventually to Auschwitz, where she was said to have lived no more than a week. I hope that in some small way I have honored her memory.
Although the basic facts of the voyage of the St. Louis are true to the documented history, the passenger group meetings, the character of Joseph Levin, and the formation of a Resistance force from the ship, if actual, would be a coincidence of the merging of fact and fiction.
As for Henri Lebasque, while he was an actual French Impressionist painter, both of his paintings described in the book, Jeune Fille à la Plage and Fille de l'été, are not, and their true provenance can be traced only to my imagination.
In structuring the novel, I chose 1937 as a realistic year prior to World War II when Americans might still seek to travel to Europe for business or pleasure. I admit to having had no prior knowledge of the famous, and for me fortuitous, Paris Exposition of 1937, which revealed itself to me in beautiful detail through internet research. Serendipitously, I had already chosen Henri Lebasque as the perfect artist for my story, accomplished, but not well known, when his showing at the very real Exhibition des Maitres d’Art Independants at the Petit-Palais was confirmed.
Pictures of the Past Discussion Guide
- Pictures of the Past illustrates our constant striving to maintain endearing human relationships despite the challenges of life, from the simple trials of young love to the complex terrors and heartbreak of war. Discuss the many examples of this within the book, including the quote, “How ironic that one wonderful man had changed her small world’s perception of love at the same time that one evil man had heightened the larger world’s perception of hate.”
- What effect do family heritage and expectations play in a person’s development? Do “only children” bear an added weight of responsibility in a family? And just as with the lineage of a work of art, what impact does our provenance have on our future?
- Readers should discuss the randomness of survival in the Holocaust. Draw on familiar stories in literature or in family histories. Does this lead only to survivor’s guilt or also survivor’s pride?
- Man versus society, good versus evil, the loss of innocence… so many of the traditional literary themes course through the novel. How does Taylor fit as the archetypal “tragic hero?” Was Taylor actually a complex individual? Discuss perfection and flaws in characters.
- Which characters change and grow in the story? Is Taylor’s return to Emily understandable?
- Follow the examples of parent-child relationships and discuss which are the most healthy. What is the result of strong or weak mothers and fathers?
- How does Rachel’s profession work well with the novel? What epiphany does Rachel have when she visits the Newport, Rhode Island mansion where she conducts her interview?
- The author, herself, states that once she molded her characters, they began to tell her where they would take the story. This was especially true when she realized that Sarah’s mother, Inga, did not intend to join her daughter on the St Louis. Do you understand her action?
- Explain the many references that could have created the title, Pictures of the Past.