A young Irish art historian living in Rome leads a tour for two men he calls The Flatulent Windbag and The Constipated Prick.
That’s Hitler and Mussolini. The motive for Hitler's 1938 visit is to seek Italian support for his Lebensrauming—gobbling up a nation or six—while the Italians want to be serious players on the international scene. When the multilingual art historian, Colgan, is drafted to guide the two men around some museums, Hitler takes a shine to him and demands he accompany the party on the entire tour, riding in Hitler’s personal railway car. The novel takes the form of a memoir, an expiation, written by Colgan in 1968 for his daughter, a flower child who's discovered a news clipping of the event.Who could have thought Nazi cretins could have authored the Holocaust? The setting is rendered in broad strokes, the plot based on observation rather than action. The heart lies in Colgan’s nuanced characterizations—humanizations?—of Hitler and Mussolini. With spare input from the entourage—Goebbels, Ribbentrop, etc.—the focus is on Colgan’s interactions with the dictators, which shine with bons mots, droll insights into human behavior, and distinctively witty turns of phrase—"I wasn’t exactly gruntled by my day in Naples." Hitler takes most of the spotlight, with a stunning anecdote of his volcanic apoplectic rage. The egoist Mussolini is shadowed by the tragic. Within the first-person narrative, Davis (Standing at the Crossroads, 2011, etc.) offers whimsically sardonic yet serious miniessays on feminism, sex, Hitler’s mustache, obscure German literature, and the tragic pervasiveness of anti-Semitism.
A sardonic take on human nature and a wry deconstruction of the "banality of evil."