"Enthralling ... A great read."—Philippe de Montebello, former director, Metropolitan Museum of Art
October 16, 1943, inside the Vatican as darkness descends upon Rome. Having been alerted to the Nazi plan to round up the city’s Jewish population the next day, Monsignor F. dispatches an envoy to a nearby palazzo to bring Ludwig Pollak and his family to safety within the papal premises. But Pollak shows himself in no hurry to leave his home and accept the eleventh-hour offer of refuge. Pollak’s visitor is obliged to take a seat and listen as he recounts his life story: how he studied archaeology in Prague, his passion for Italy and Goethe, how he became a renowned antiquities dealer and advisor to great collectors like J. P. Morgan and the Austro-Hungarian emperor after his own Jewishness barred him from an academic career, and finally his spectacular discovery of the missing arm from the majestic ancient sculpture of Laocoön and his sons. Torn between hearing Pollak’s spellbinding tale and the urgent mission to save the archaeologist from certain annihilation, the Vatican’s anxious messenger presses him to make haste and depart. This stunning novel illuminates the chasm between civilization and barbarism by spotlighting a little-known figure devoted to knowledge and the power of artistic creation.
"Brilliant ... A cautionary tale about the beauty of art often being no match for the boot and the fist. This multilayered account of myth and injustice has much to offer."
—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"The novel resembles a one-act play ... capturing a life enriched by its commitment to art and antiquities and a man who makes an unusual decision when faced with a crucial choice. A work that weaves art and history into a fascinating tale."
—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"This intense and exciting book brings back to life the voice of Ludwig Pollak who, when confronted with Nazi-occupied Rome's grim reality, powerfully conveys a taste for collecting, the pleasure of erudition, and an unshakeable faith in culture. This period of European history—remarkably captured here by Hans von Trotha—still has much to tell us."
—Salvatore Settis, chairman of the Louvre Museum Scientific Council and author of Laocoön and If Venice Dies
"Hans von Trotha has composed a small jewel of a novel. Set as the Holocaust reaches Rome in October 1943, it quietly evokes an archaeologist's reflections on a European life of scholarship and art. The result is physical death for him and his family. Yet this book offers vivid testimony of his words and actions in defense of humane culture against barbarism."
—R. J. B. Bosworth, author of Mussolini and The Oxford Handbook of Fascism
"This enthralling novel describes an undying passion for antiquity with an underlying theme of great poignancy. A great read."
—Philippe de Montebello, former director, Metropolitan Museum of Art
"A book every traveler to Rome should put in their luggage."
"Exciting and extremely moving."
"Something special, that is, above all, something that will stimulate your thoughts ... The book is a treasure trove for those interested in art history ... With an intensely packed narrative, the very substantial novel deserves to be read twice."