The novel revolves around the forced sale of a painting in Nazi-occupied Vienna. Zoltan Nagy, the legitimate heir, is pressured by his daughter to go to court and recoup his parents’ possessions. But Zoltan is in love with the present owner of the painting. What if winning the court case means losing her? And thereby hangs a tale with several twists and turns: secrets, assumptions and slippery identities are the ingredients the author has used to create a page-turner. Zoltan’s daughter, Cereta, claims the painting was sold under duress. But is the work what it appears to be, or is it an expert forgery? And is Cereta the woman she claims to be? Or is her real name Laura? David, an art historian, who falls in love with her, cannot get at the truth. He is caught in a web of illusions and postmodernist doubts. Zoltan holds the key to the puzzle, but he is hard to read. The hardships he suffered in childhood have made him a man of a thousand disguises, a man hiding even from himself.When the dispute over the painting threatens Zoltan’s relationship with the people he loves, he realizes that it’s time to tell who is who and what is what.
The story of the Nagy family and the disputed painting is told in five parts, narrated respectively by David, Laura/Cereta, Zoltan and Nancy, his lover. It spans the decades from the forties to the new millennium, as we follow Zoltan from Vienna to Budapest and on to Los Angeles. It probes the soul-destroying effects of brutal regimes and the search for the truth in a world that challenges us to tell fact from fiction.
“Sexual obsession, mysterious art, dysfunctional family, and corrosive 20th century history leaking into the present come seamlessly together in Erika Rummel’s The Painting on Auerperg’s Wall. Combining indepth character studies with a fast-paced psychological thriller, the novel breaks through genre barriers to provide a read that is both entertaining and instructive.”
—Michael Mirolla, award-winning author of Berlin and Lessons in Relationship Dyads
“In this taut, fast-moving novel memories of a traumatic flight from Nazi-occupied Austria in 1939 haunt descendants of a family for two generations. A tangle of mysteries surround two orphaned infants, a valuable painting, and identical twins who grow up leading very separate lives. The characters—and the reader—must puzzle over the way family secrets create false identities just as doubts about provenance destabilize the legitimacy of a work of art. Rummel’s vivid narration ranges from Cold War Budapest and Vienna to twenty-first century Santa Monica, California. Implied are questions about the reliability of memory and the knowability of history.”
—Charlotte Furth, author of Opening to China: A Memoir of Normalization, 1981-82, and Professor Emerita of History, University of Southern California