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Pictures at an Exhibition

A Parisian art dealer’s son and a young Louvre curator hunt for what the Nazis looted.

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David Copperfield at least got to wonder if he would be the hero of his own life. Poor Max Berenzon doesn’t stand a chance.

The mild-mannered, naive son of a wealthy Parisian art dealer who boasts both Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse among his clients, Max dreams of one day working side by side with his father. Dear old dad, however, announces that teenage Max doesn’t have the hunger and that he cannot “in good conscience” leave his only son the family business. Instead, he hires a promising Louvre curator named Rose Clement.

Max promptly gets a crush on the lovely 21-year-old, and spends much of the first half of Sara Houghteling’s debut novel, Pictures at an Exhibition, pursuing (without apparent success on either front) the affections of both Rose and his dad.

Then World War II puts a crushing end to both the Berenzons’ life of wealthy sophistication and Max’s desultory medical studies. The Jewish family spends the war hiding in a farmhouse cellar in the south of France.

When they return after the liberation of Paris in 1944, they discover that their home, gallery, and bank vault have been emptied of a fortune in paintings. Max vows to get them back for his father, although his initial efforts look more likely to damage himself than locate any art. Then, to his surprise, he discovers that Rose holds the key.

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