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The Book of Kings

By James Thackara

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.

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