Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Review of The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel (Center Street, 2009)
To try and provide an accessible narrative, Edsel drifts towards a fictional-style telling, and concentrates on a handful of leading characters. This does make the account relatively straightforward to follow, although because he keeps the timeline linear the narrative jumps around between threads quite a bit. It also centres the story on a small number of people and decontextualizes it somewhat from the wider story of art plundering during the war and its recovery and its restitution after the war. This was clearly Edsel’s intention, to focus specifically on the MFAA and the men he casts as heroes in their efforts to save and return priceless art (and initially they were just a handful of men). And they certainly were dedicated, brave and tenacious. Personally, though, I would have liked the story to have a bit more depth with respect to the MFAA beyond the personal narratives and to have been set in the wider context, especially the Nazi efforts to plunder and hide materials, and the various networks and intermediaries involved. The book could have also been improved by removing the unnecessary repetition. Overall, an interesting account of a little known Allied endeavour.