A historical novel of sorts, blending fact and fiction, set in the last days of the Third Reich.
At the heart of the story are the Loerber siblings—Manni, Franzi, Ziggy and Sebastian—who before the war have a famous cabaret act, the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers. After a prologue set in 1933, in which McNally shows us their act, the narrative skips to the spring of 1945. Hitler is living in a fantasy world in which he gives orders to divisions that no longer exist, and Albert Speer and Heinrich Himmler are jockeying for position to be the next Reichsführer and thus to try to leverage an inevitable defeat into the most favorable terms for Germany. During the war the Loerber brothers have scattered, and Sebastian has in fact disappeared for the past 11 years. Manni becomes a chauffeur for Speer as Speer surreptitiously visits the industrial areas of Germany, which Hitler has decreed should be destroyed. Speer’s task is to convince the captains of industry to preserve the factories so Germany can be guaranteed some kind of economic future. Along the way we meet Wolfgang Lüth, leader of U-boat crews (one crew member is Ziggy, who improbably becomes part of Lüth’s staff and who wins a Knight’s Cross); Admiral Karl Dönitz; and even postwar Cold warriors George Ball, Paul Nitze and John Kenneth Galbraith. Most of the Loerbers have turned to spying, and Sebastian has even aligned himself with the Blood of Israel, a secretive group that ultimately promotes postwar settlement in Palestine. We see here some Nazis in denial, especially Himmler, who, on being shown pictures from Bergen-Belsen, questions, “ ‘Am I to blame for the excesses of my subordinates?’ ” The title refers to Speer’s grandiose plans for a Germany of “vast plazas and boulevards…gigantic ministries and monuments,” a vision ironically undermined by the grim realities of the spring of 1945.
Interesting history, but the writing is pedantic.