A Savage Kulter

A SAVAGE KULTER by Monique Roy, Historical Fiction

Author: Monique Roy
Publisher: BookBaby
Genre: Historical Fiction

In Oxford, England, Ava, a Jewish art student at Oxford University, receives a heart-wrenching letter from her grandfather after he dies. From the letter, she learns that her grandfather has given her his London art gallery, which he says will secure her future, as well as provide a place for her to grow her artistic talents and follow her passion for art. The letter also describes his one last wish—that she find a treasured Vincent van Gogh painting, The Lovers: The Poet's Garden IV, that belonged to her grandparents and was deemed degenerate and looted by the Nazis in 1937.

Arriving for the first time at the gallery, she discovers old photographs in a secret room that recount the harrowing past—a Nazi propaganda parade in 1937. She quickly becomes aware that the room and the gallery, with an empty frame for the missing van Gogh, hold such rich memories of her grandparents. As conversations with her family members and those connected to the painting spur memories, the book switches back and forth between the current timeline and the timeline during the war to tell the stories of those affected by the painting and its fate.

On the train to her grandfather’s funeral, she meets Gordon Rose, an FBI agent, disguised as an art restitution lawyer. He helps her track down the missing van Gogh, while at the same time, he goes after an Neo-Nazi albino art forger named Luther.

Ava pays several visits to her grandmother, her only living relative who lived through the war, hoping she remembers something about the past that will be a clue to the missing painting and their lives in Germany during the war. It is in these hours that she sits with her grandmother that she learns about her grandparents finding refuge on an Austrian farm after they flee Munich and of Charlotte, a local farm girl who lives at Lake Toplitz.

Ava’s grandmother who struggles with dementia recalls Charlotte’s last name. With this information, Ava tracks down Charlotte at her home at Lake Toplitz and questions the old woman about what happened at the lake. On her last breath, Charlotte speaks of the secrets hidden in the lake.

When Gordon breaks into Luther’s Austrian hideout, he believes Luther has forged the missing van Gogh painting. Luther claims it is the real deal. To right a wrong and under the duress of Gordon and law enforcement, Luther returns the painting to Ava.

Ava takes the van Gogh painting to her grandmother. Still not sure if it's the real thing or not, Ava wants to bring her grandmother closure during her last days. Gordon wonders if they should call an art expert to examine the painting. She believes it was meant to be there, whether real or fake. In the end, Gordon and Ava reveal their true feelings for one another.

My Review

I liked this book. It is rich in history. What I enjoyed about this book is that it did not focus on the people but on art. It is easy to forget that the Holocaust times was not just about the people but all of the art as well. The Nazis destroyed tons of art.

Ava seemed like the timid type but she proved me wrong. She was more then capable of helping to solve the mystery surrounding the missing Vincent van Gogh painting, The Lovers: The Poet's Garden IV. Although, Ava did not have solve the mystery alone. She had help with Gordon. He was an nice addition to the story. He is kind, smart and there was a bit of a romance spark there with Ava. I like that Gordon gave Ava her space.

The latter half of the story is were the pacing really picked up. I know that I was really into the story better in the latter half. While, I did like this book and Ava and Gordon; I did find myself at a arm's length when it came to getting very close to the characters. Overall, though I did enjoy reading this book.



London, England
New Year’s Eve, 2013

It was an icy New Year’s Eve in London when Ava Goldman contemplated the bitter side of life. As she strolled home from a cozy bookshop before sunset, she noticed the wind crisscrossed between ancient buildings, thick snow blanketed the streets, and a single piece of newsprint swirled up in the gust. This weather was not everyone’s cup of tea, but Ava liked the invigorating, crisp air and the hoarfrost on the grass. She could stare for hours at the individual snowflakes that sparkled like glitter and diamonds.
The chilly weather scarcely dampened the mood as the city, on the dawn of another year, still hummed with activity and celebration. Ava knew she was not alone in her thoughts. Merry revelers stood on the banks of the Thames River, which lay frigid from below London Bridge. They, too, were on a journey, quietly observing the world before them as they tried to imagine the future and rehash the past. Glowing fireworks burst around Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, illuminating the night sky with explosions of bright and vivacious colors of light.
In these moments when nothing stirred, she remembered the past, understood the present, thought of the future, and she dug deep into her soul. Ava vowed to remain centered no matter what came her way. To her, this meant being more grounded and calm. She hoped the new year brought with it hope and renewal like a radiant flower that springs from a timeworn vine.
That evening, Ava met some friends for a night on the town. Ava sighed, her breath crystallized in front of her face. She quickened her pace, trying to keep warm, walking in silence among some friends as they weaved through crowds of people toward a riverside Victorian pub. For Ava, it was almost too cold to even speak. Her full red lips quivered in the frigid night.
She shivered and groaned at the biting cold air, drawing her thick wool coat closer around herself as she continued to stroll around the mob of people.
Her best friend, Isla Rose, caught up with her fast pace. Ava smiled at how pretty she looked wearing her large, brown Russian fur hat. Some locks of lustrous raven hair fell beneath it, tickling Isla’s slender neck.
“It’s bloody cold out here, darling!” Isla said, walking arm-in-arm with her friend. “You look like you’re deep in thought and freezing.”
“Yes, frigid,” Ava said, sighing. “I’m pondering my life. Isn’t that what everyone does on New Year’s Eve?”
“I suppose,” Isla said. “The future is unknown, my dear friend, but there is always a way. There is always hope. Life can be magical.”
As they turned the corner, Ava stopped walking as her eyes first caught the sight of a strange, thinly-built, small man standing under a street light at the opposite side of the street. The light illuminated his creepy outfit—a black SS uniform, complete with a cap and red armband emblazoned with a swastika.
The sinister man caused a stunned crowd to slowly disperse into the night.
Isla jumped when she saw the man.
“Gawd blimey!” she exclaimed, clutching her hand to her chest.
Ava blinked, thinking her eyes were playing tricks, but the sight was very real. The man was smoking heavily. Cigarette butts lay scattered on the ground around him. His dark glasses covered most of his face, except for his chalk-pale cheeks and chin. It was hard to know who he was looking at or why he was there. His head was tilted back slightly as if he was looking at the stars in the night sky. His mouth formed a strange variation between a grimace and a smile as it loosely held a lit cigarette. It was as if he was taunting the crowd in a strange and eerie silence.
People walked by him, either laughing or gasping in shock, many not knowing how to react to the absurdity. Ava continued to stand several feet away horrified. Her eyes were glued to the man who was now perfectly parallel to them. A cold chill crept up her spine, raising the tiny hairs on the back of her neck. The man did not react; he just stood there, like a statue. He did not say a word to anyone.
An older man walked by and spat on the strange man’s black boots. Still the mysterious man did not react. He continued to watch the crowd who stared back at him in terror and pointed fingers.
“Should we call the police?” Isla asked.
“I have to get out of here,” Ava said in a panic. “This is so disturbing and bizarre.”
When they arrived at the pub, Ava sat wide-eyed in shock.
“Are you alright?” Isla asked.
Ava nodded. “Please order me a stiff drink.”
Her friends sitting around her, a buzz of conversations filled the air. A few friends were chatting about this and that, and their hopes and dreams for the coming year. Then the conversation grew more serious.
“Did you see that odd guy outside?” one friend asked. “Has anyone seen someone dressed in a Nazi uniform before?”
Everyone just shook their heads.
“Speaking of Nazis…we must all know someone who has an untold story in their family’s past,” said another friend.
Upon hearing it, Ava jolted from her ice-cold trance and her mind raced with many questions.
As she continued to listen, she felt great despair and a concern for the future. It was a jarring wake-up call that a treasure trove of information about her family’s past lay within her grandparents—one who struggled to relive the past and the other who no longer remembered it.
“Everyone has secrets,” the one friend said to the other. “Some secrets should be kept in the deep, dark depths of our being and some should be brought wide into the open.”
The other friend said, “I believe some secrets destroy us if not revealed, but not all are destructive; sometimes they are crucial to our lives.”
She believed those words, except she had no idea what that untold story, those secrets, could possibly be. She hoped that if her family had dark secrets, that they would not be lost to the grave one day.
            Since that evening, those words hit a sensitive nerve. They reminded her of what her grandfather used to say when she was younger.


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