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Pictures of the Past
by Deby Eisenberg
Paperback : 376 pages
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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.
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Slamming her hands on the rotating tires of her wheelchair, she abruptly stopped its slow progression. “It can’t be.” Her words were soft and almost unintelligible at first. “Oh, my God.” She spoke louder now and the small group with her, previously drawn in many directions, began to form a circle around her. “It just can’t be.” Louder still and more disturbed, her accent became thicker with each repetition, as she searched out her eldest daughter. “Darlene, now...please...I need you. Come. I need you to read me the plaque.” ... view entire excerpt...
Discussion Questions1. Pictures of the Past illustrates our constant striving to maintain endearing human relationships despite the challenges of life, from simple trials of young love to the complex terrors and heartbreak of war. Discuss the many examples of this within the book.
2. 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?
3. Explain the many references that could have created the title, Pictures of the Past.
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