The Case of Emil Diesel
by Patricia Menton

"Art survives. That is all that matters. Each piece tells our history. It is our gift to future generations. It is our legacy."

This novel is a fictionalized account inspired by a true story. It involves a private art collection illegally seized by the German Democratic Republic in the years during the Cold War.

Max lives in Boston with his wife Sophie, his collection of paintings, and his objets d’art. While the art occupies most of his home, it actually represents only a small portion of the items he himself has collected, plus pieces from his father Emil’s enormous collection in Germany. When World War II ended, the country was carved up by the victorious Allies. Unfortunately, Emil lived in that part of Germany governed by the Soviet Union. The unscrupulous government framed Emil for tax evasion and confiscated his art—much of which was allotted to museums run by the state. The author dramatizes Max’s effort to secure what his father wanted him to have.

Menton tells Max’s story by telling Emil’s as well. She recounts the history of a father who expended so much passion on his art and lifestyle that he had little left to share with his son. She vividly recounts life in Germany before, during, and after the Second World War. Her depictions of cities, towns, and villages are filled with interesting detail, as are her descriptions of various art pieces. She imbues her characters—wives, mothers, mistresses, politicians, curators, and more—with personalities that help them come to life on the page. The pace of her narrative moves briskly without adversely affecting comprehension. Lovers of art and good-stories-well-told will likely find this debut novel both engaging and memorable.

Return to USR Home