This book spans three generations, beginning in Germany before the onset of World War II, and ending in Australia in the present day. It traces two characters (one German Christian, one German Jewish), their different experiences, their intersecting lives, and then the lives of their descendants.
The first part of the book, up through the end of the war, was excellent. Goldsmith does a good job of evoking the troubled time, deals well with moral ambiguity, and avoids cliches. The later part of the book, where she leaves the original characters and deals with their descendants, is not as interesting or as original. It has a trite, tacked-on kind of feel, like she had to write more to meet a contractual page requirement. The ending is especially forced. I skimmed the last 30 pages. Yet the book is worth reading for the first half (two-thirds?) alone.
Here's something weird. I wanted to take this book with me on vacation, but managed to forget it (and the backup book!) on the kitchen table. So much for all my planning. But during a pit stop at the Lake Forest Oasis on the Illinois Tollway I discovered, of all things, a used bookstore in a tiny little kiosk inside the oasis, amid the Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, keychain stand, etc. Six shelves of used books provided a lot of good choices, in fact, shockingly better choices than I ever would have imagined. For $2.00 I bought Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi. I read a third of it on my vacation, and discovered that this book is set in the same region of Germany as The Prosperous Thief. Indeed the same city, Krefeld (a town previously unknown to me) figures in both stories. How weird is that?
(Book 13, 2006)