THE BURKE FOUNDATION by Anthony McCandless


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Quest novel, part Catch-22 sardonic war-comedy, part family-dynasty melodrama, this hybrid is so oddly marbled you don't know whether a page will stay straight or veer into humor--though the author clearly intends comedy to deepen the 3-D illusion of life's lunacy. Part One tells the story of millionaire Hugo Sepelov Burke's last year as a Royal Marine Commando helping to defeat the Germans in Yugoslavia in 1944-45. But why is Canadian volunteer supercommando Burke always squirreling off on his own, to reconnoiter and promote private military actions? As it happens, the Yugoslav guerrillas are divided among themselves--being either loyalists to the deposed king or Communist usurpers--and Burke wants the Communists wiped out. In one amusing and more-than-sardonic passage, the commandos take some Nazi prisoners--who turn out to be Mongol-speaking Turcomans impressed by the Russians to fight in a war they have no knowledge of and who, when first taken prisoner by the Nazis, decide to follow a captured Russian general and fight the Communist Russians alongside the Nazis--all of which is an alliance as entangled as the Yugoslavian teams' crosswarfare against each other while both are fighting the Nazis. Amidst all this, Hugo falls in love with Red Cross welfare-officer Helen Grant, who has been sleeping around happily with young men almost certainly about to die. But her marriage to Hugo brings out utter fidelity, joy, and pregnancy. Then, during heavy fire, he is violently wounded and left for dead on a bridge, and despairing Helen miscarries. Even so, a year after Hugo's ""death"" she has a son, Ulick, whom she raises as Hugo's and who inherits a fantastic fortune as nominal head of the so-called philanthropic Burke Foundation in Canada. The Foundation is actually rabidly anticommunist and has been fighting Communism on all fronts since the Revolution destroyed the Burke family's vast holdings in Russia. In Part Two, when visiting his father's grave marker, Ulick Finds the discrepancy in dates between his birth and his father's death. Who, then, is his father? Only Helen knows, since she was raped in a churchyard while visiting Hugo's Yugoslavian ""grave"" soon after his death. . . Part One features far too much tiresome detail about ordnance and tactics for the kind of nonmilitary-minded reader the novel as a whole seems designed for. There is reading allure aplenty in Hugo and Helen, and later in simple-minded athlete Ulick and his hyperintellectual wife Alice. But the novel exists on two or three planes at once, as a family-saga/war novel and as a larger-visioned black comedy constantly being scaled down to routine melodrama, and this unfortunately undercuts the big response McCandless quite likely seeks in so many passages of fine writing.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1985
Publisher: Stein & Day