The Book of Kings by James Thackara
English | 2020| General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 2.3 MB
Thackara brilliantly forges the stories of four men and the extraordinary women they love, whose lives frame the mural of world conflagration.
Charged with a rich evocation of Hemingway’s Paris and rivaling the scope of Dostoevsky and Melville, The Book of Kings traces Germany’s drift toward Fascist tyranny from 1932, when a quartet of students at the Sorbonne – half-Venetian David and the philosopher Johannes, both Germans; Justin, a Franco-Arab scholarship student; and Duncan, a lost generation American with a weakness for “old Europe” – share an apartment on the Rue de Fleurus.
A masterwork of literary vision in which history, politics, and philosophy are dissolved in powerful narrative, The Book of Kings tracks the fate of its characters to reveal enduring questions of absolute evil and human responsibility. In fully enacted scenes ranging from the rout of France’s Grande Armée, the invasion of Stalinist Russia and the siege of Moscow, Silesia’s death camps, the burning of Berlin, to further ruin in Brazil’s rainforest and Algeria’s anti-colonial revolt, the novelist’s terrestrial architecture emerges to reveal civilization strung between its deadliest ambition for total dominion and its genius to retreat from barbarism and find redemption.
The title alludes to God’s prophetic warning to Samuel about the rise of man-made kings. James Thackara, as John Walsh wrote in The New Yorker, “watches Hitler’s rise from a dozen different perspectives: at Wagner festivals; as reported in dinner table gossip; in close-up grand hotel and High Command appearances at the Führer’s side; in letters and rumors of war; in the gradually thickening atmosphere of fright and inevitability, and the ultimately potent uprising of world resistance.”
A work of extraordinary vision and range, The Book of Kings magnificently fuses myth and the inexorable events of history.
On a clear June morning late in the 1960s, a convertible blue two-seater started quickly southeast from Calais down files of poplars, long rising and falling over the great gray-green and yellow squared carpets of farmland. Before St. Omer, where the wheat and barley was high, began the cimetières des soldats—first for Canadians, then one for the French, an English one, then a visions de guerre with two lifesize, uniformed puppets. The thin-legged American at the wheel, who was called Jim, raised his voice.
“You can’t get away from it!”
“My invitation will come any day,” his companion called back, the wind blowing his hair. “Albert Sunda will present himself at the court of the czar, the salon of George Sand!”
All the horizon ahead was a hazy cloud wall of sun-topped cumulus. As they drove east, the daylight weakened, and presently James Penn and Albert Sunda were in a dense fog.
In fact, this fog covered Europe without a gap. Outside the ministries of the Quai d’Orsay and the gray Kredit-Banks of the Bahnhofstrasse, from valley farms in the Adige and the bright-lit cafes of Valencia, men were staring up with a vague and guilty unease. At two o’clock, somewhere between Rheims and the river Meuse, the young men stopped for lunch at a relais crowded with truckers watching world football. Then they raised the top and they were traveling again, in a drizzling rain now, and scudding fog. After he had driven for over an hour in second gear, Jim realized they were on the wrong road.
“We won’t reach the mountains tonight.” He made a face. “Clermont, four kilometers,” Albert read. “We’re in the Argonne.”
“The Argonne Forest?”
Yes, the Great War … the trenches.”
“Hitler’s war was the big one.” Jim murmured the name that had killed his father.
Even as Albert had spoken, the cimetières des soldats had begun again. Little green signs floated through the cloudy glow of the headlamps. But so near now to the silent mysterious fields, Jim was feeling strange emotions: dread, intense curiosity, and somehow embarrassment. A lonely grief rose from his stomach and tightened in his throat. A cimetière anglais came toward them, then a French and an Indian one facing across the road. And then the first German cemetery, on a farm corner by a rusted water pump.
“Why are we stopping?” Albert looked at Jim’s absorbed profile. “Oh, God. Well, go ahead if it won’t take long.”
“Good. We wouldn’t make your chalet tonight anyway.”
Jim engaged gear and twisted the wheel. The blue sign swept left in the fog and vanished. On it, in white, were the words grand cimetière de verdun.