Forty years of political and financial suspicion and frustration kneaded into a semifictional account of government machinations, power brokering, partisan jousting and, always in the foreground, a complex economic debate.
Divided into four parts—beginning with the ominous “Seeds of the Beast” and ending with a portentous reference to “Voices of Babel”—Gentsch’s debut is told largely from Jude Anders’ perspective. First, he’s a civically engaged college student organizing Vietnam War protests, then an economic analyst at the IMF and the Federal Reserve, and eventually, he’s an advisor in the fictional present-day American president’s inner circle. In a socially and politically liberal voice, the book directly adheres to documented history through the Clinton presidency, then refers nondescriptly to a Republican in the White House for eight years, and finally presents a thinly fictionalized version of the last four years under a Democratic president named Mitchell Taylor, a single-term Native American senator from Colorado. As bright and capable as Jude appears to be, his career trajectory has a manufactured hue to it; while avoiding the draft in seminary school in Toronto, he meets Anton Tomasin, an articulate if somewhat cagey political science major around whom Jude is instinctively cautious because Anton has been raised by his adoptive parents in material comfort with privileged access to global movers and shakers. In the novel, a powerful, conspiratorial network influences men, markets and governments, all the while shadowing Jude’s progress. This conglomerate surreptitiously lurks behind the American curtain; along with the masses of uninformed U.S. citizenry and adherents to the Chicago School of Economics, they form a body of antagonists. In flashbacks and recollections, readers relive Jude’s reactions to and involvement in a string of significant historical events, including the violence at Kent State in 1970, the oil crisis of ’73, U.S. and international interference in Central and South American regimes, the attacks and aftermath of 9/11, and the contemporary debt crisis in Greece. Despite its lumbering pace, the simple, colloquial prose progresses with easy-to-swallow biographical turns—cute college girls; reluctant, ultimately joyful fatherhood; bitter divorce. The constant color of economic crisis and espionage, however, sometimes dizzily careens toward implausibility. Jude’s populism and essentially Keynesian philosophy would have been better served had Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman followers in the novel had an equal champion; instead, opposing forces tend to be uninformed, fatalistic or sinister. For the most part, though, Gentsch maintains an admirably nonpartisan course to inform and awaken readers to the significance of economic ideas and policies.
A broad, striking attempt to interweave money and politics.