This fall’s revelation that a trove of 1500 Nazi-looted paintings stayed for years in a Munich apartment spread shock waves around the world. Not only was this startling news for art scholars, curators and collectors. The political and legal aspects of the ongoing story are equally astounding, not the least being the fact that the German government raided Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment and found the cache nearly two years ago. And no one leaked it. Probably the most amazing!    cornelius

One of the more interesting tidbits relates to the composition of the collection. Many works in it were those of so-called “degenerate” artists, including German Expressionists of the early 20th century, such as Grosz and Nolde, but also Chagall and Kandinsky. Despite Hitler’s scorn for them, his henchmen made sure they were swept into the looting parties, and a German exhibition in 1937 showcased them. They may not have been the Fuehrer’s taste, but more savvy and value-conscious connoisseurs such as Goering managed to take a few home.  Gurlitt’s father, a dealer to those fine clients, stashed plenty. What was leftover in his son’s lair is said to be worth more than $1 billion in today’s art marketplace.

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It’s been a banner couple of months for marketing both AFTER THE AUCTION and the forthcoming THE LOST TORAH OF SHANGHAI. (Forthcoming in 2014.)  I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect storm of real-life events to validate the truth/fiction synergy of the subjects I include in the novels.   Unknown

First, in October, came the news that a family in Shanghai was keeping a cache of books for a Jewish man, a refugee who’d escaped Europe and who entrusted the books to their late father in 1943. The English language Chinese TV report asserted that the Jewish man returned to Germany at that time and sent a postcard back to his book holding friend that sounded suspiciously like Holocaust stories about postcard messages sent, at Nazi behest, by concentration camp prisoners to people still back home: “Reunited with our family…” 

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As the nursery rhyme goes, “I’ve been to London to see the Queen.” And I did! BOTH of them!

Last month Eli and I stood alongside the Mall to view the parade going to the Trooping the Colour ceremony, an annual pageant marking Queen Elizabeth’s Official Birthday (her real birthday is in April, but June in London is deemed to have better weather). And then we high-tailed it down to Buckingham Palace for the balcony scene afterward. And what a shot Eli got! This was Princess Kate’s last public appearance before giving birth.

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My friends and readers (and I hope you’re all both!) may reasonably think: what is Linda doing running around the world when she’s supposedly working on another book? Where is book news among the travel adventures?

Well, travel is broadening (believe me, as my lifelong struggle with weight persists!) not just in body but in mind and now in mine as a relatively nouveau fiction writer. While the month+ in India might have looked like all fun and games, it made a huge impact on me as I AM trying to finish The Lost Torah of Shanghai, the next book. Really! Not only have I become personally even more invested in issues that have engaged me for years, but my writer’s voice will reflect that as the new story unfolds.

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When I asked a cab driver whether to call his city Mumbai or Bombay, he replied, “Bombay! Some crazy Indians made it Mumbai, but it’s Bombay.”    

The Gateway to India, a landmark on Bombay’s waterfront built by the British.

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After our nice three-day jaunt to Kochi and Munnar and New Year’s Eve and Day relaxing back in Trivandrum, January 2, wedding day for Kellyand Sharat, dawned. And I do mean dawn! The time of the wedding was determined astrologically. It was to start about 8 am. So, we left the hotel in our wedding regalia at 7:15, before sunrise. The Christmas tree in the hotel lobby gave us an interesting backdrop for a photo en route to the Hindu temple. Talk about diversity.

Hotel lobby at 7:30 am. Talk about diversity: Indian wedding garb, Christmas tree, Jewish guests! 

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Varanasi was the last stop on our OAT tour. From there we flew to Delhi and on to Trivandrum, the English spelling of Thiruvananthapuram (try saying that three times or once), its name in the local language, Malayalam. Trivandrum is the capital city of the Indian southern state of Kerala. It’s almost on the southernmost tip of India, on the portion of the Indian Ocean called the Arabian Sea in India.

On this leg it was just us and our friends, Grace and Francis (Pete) Peters, who live in Morgan Hill, CA, about 70 south of us. We met Grace and Pete on our African safari trip in 2011 and became fast friends. Believe it or not, they travel more than we do. Grace and Pete are why we came to India now—the reason for the whole trip.  

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Visiting Varanasi takes the traveler to the spiritual heart of India. This city along the Ganges is considered the country’s holiest spot for both Hindus and Buddhists. We landed there on December 24 in the midst of a three-day church festival for Christmas. As if that wasn’t enough, we ate our festive hotel dinner that night (Indian menu, Christmas décor and Santa Claus hats for the men) to the accompaniment of youthful carolers. When they took a break, rousing renditions of “To Life, To Life, l’Chaim,” (from “Fiddler on the Roof”) and then “Have Negilah” rang out from three large tables of Israeli travelers. No horah dancing, but a lively and ironic interlude. “Of all the gin joints,” who would have expected this crowd?

This was close to the end of the official tour part of our trip through Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which led us through Bhutan and northern India. We were a group of seven in Bhutan and ten in India, a very manageable size. Our veteran group leader, Krish, keeps a selection of silk saris in OAT’s customary Varanasi hotel, and a woman who works there came in to drape the four women in the group for Christmas Eve dinner. The Israelis were amused. My weekly Hebrew conversation class at home enabled me to talk to them almost as well as most spoke English (including a few raised in the United States). They were intrigued that we were going to Israel after India.

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Amber Fort, Jaipur

View from top of Amber Fort (we did walk up!)

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A scenic flight over the Himalayas from Bhutan took us back to Delhi, where we spent three packed days.

Mt. Everest, as seen from Bhutan to Delhi flight

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