General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (1870-1964) fought the Allies to blistering defeat in German East Africa during World War I;...



General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (1870-1964) fought the Allies to blistering defeat in German East Africa during World War I; he's credited by Stevenson (A Man Called Intrepid) with wisely advising the Allies not to aid plots to assassinate Hitler in 1944; and he's the subject of this rich historical novel, which covers Lettow's Great War as well as his romance and marriage with an American, Kate Truman. Kate is herself the daughter of a general and sister to a major--a major who's about to be executed by the Germans when Kate arrives in WW I Tanga, where Lettow is Kommandeur. A Prussian, Lettow distinguished himself in the Boer War and is in his element in German East Africa, able to do battle without political meddling from Berlin, in a great dream of war, along with Cornelius Oakes, a U.S-educated Masai radical-guerrilla fighting to save the many tribes. When the blacks separate invading British troops into small kill-able units, the British wake up to find themselves facing savage, humiliating defeat: the white race is caving in under the birthday of black independence (though blacks, conscripted on both sides, are dying in a white man's war). An even larger theme measures the endurance of love against the pure violence on this utterly isolated four-year battleground in the cradle of mankind--as sensitive, powerful, sensual Kate (a figure suggested by Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen, a real-life friend of Lettow's) falls for Lettow, helps her prisoner brother to escape (he's killed by a zeppelin propeller, later reappears as a marvelous ghost), becomes Lettow's unofficial adjutant at Kilimanjaro, and finally proposes marriage to him. A baby is born, then kidnapped (by a jealous pet monkey?), Kate is raped, later commits suicide when she thinks Lettow has been killed. And, throughout, the couple is stoic and spartan, whether jousting with arch-enemy Myles Hagen, British Commando leader, or refusing to give in to grief. Some high-flown talk falls flat. Some African-novel clichÉs intrude. But most of this is luxuriously intense, historically resonant, a war-wise and densely ironic soldier's tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1980