“Pictures of the Past” begins as an elderly woman makes her way through the Art Institute of Chicago, and suddenly glimpses a painting that sends her back into the past. Seeing this remarkable painting, Jeune Fille à la Plague by Henri Lebasque, in her friend’s house at the start of World War II, this woman rightfully accuses its donator, Taylor Woodmere, of being a Nazi thief. Unbeknownst to her, Taylor Woodmere’s connection to this paining also traverses time. Purchasing this painting in France, he gives this work of art to Sarah Berger, a German Jewish woman. Fallen madly in love, these two individuals attempt to reunite with each other during the devastating events of World War II. Realizing that Sarah will not be able to escape Nazi Germany, the dreams of these two soul mates suddenly become lost in the terrors of World War II.
Also included in this enticing story resides the compelling tale of Rachel Gold, a unmarried pregnant woman in the late 1960s. Abandoned by her child’s father, Court Woodmere, son of Taylor Woodmere, she raises her child with the aid of her aunt, a Holocaust survivor. As the truth of this painting’s legacy comes to light, Taylor, Sarah, and Rachel’s strange connections are revealed to the author.
While confusing at first, Eisenberg divides the book into chapters focusing on different characters at various points in history. Spanning the 1930s, 1960s, and the twenty-first century, the reader connects the dots toward the middle of the novel. Filled with historical details, such as the predicament of the St. Louis during World War II and the risks Jewish people undertook to escape Europe, “Pictures of the Past” places the reader in a trance, unable to set this book down. The characters are developed fully and one cannot help but long for Taylor Woodmere to experience happiness. Connecting with the character’s will to achieve the impossible, the pages scream with life and eerily realistic details. A testament to true love surviving time and impossible challenges, Eisenberg creates a masterpiece that the reader will cherish even after the story is completed. Do not be discouraged by the overwhelming presence of details and dates, the story will come together eventually and you will be thankful that you stuck with this book.