A back-to-nature youth festival in Weimar Germany and a dangerous WWII guerilla mission in Central Europe provide the backdrop for this restless, convoluted novel from Grant (Kaspian Lost, 1999, etc.).

Though it opens in 1944 and then proceeds through awkward flashbacks, the story really begins in the summer of 1929, when friends and neighbors Ingo Miller and Martina (Marty) Panich are young college students in Washington, D.C. Ingo (German-American) and Marty (nominally Jewish) attend that youth festival in the idyllic German countryside. The attendees, who range from Communists to anti-Semitic rightists, celebrate the German “folk-soul” and homoerotic sentiments. Ingo will fall in love with a German lad; Marty will be deflowered by a supercilious American journalist, Samuel Butler Randolph III. In a move that’s crucial for the plot, Ingo will rescue an American Jewish kid, Isaac, from right-wing bullies; the flawlessly beautiful Hagen, a devious rightist, will lead the Americans to apparent safety. Fifteen years later, the enigmatic and underdeveloped Isaac is a guerilla leader in the mountains on the Czech/Polish border; the Little Fox is legendary for his attacks on the SS. Word reaches Ingo and Marty in Washington that Isaac possesses an invaluable document, Himmler’s order to eradicate the Jews; he will hand it over, but only to Ingo. An unlikely ragtag band of “desk warriors,” including Ingo and Marty, leave for Europe after basic training in Maryland. Yet there’s no suspense here. The mission to obtain the document is interrupted, not only by flashbacks but also by reports from Butler, a loyal Communist; he is embedded with the Red Army and under orders to obtain and destroy that all-important directive. Another impediment to a fast-moving narrative is the author’s fanciful commentary (“the lustral agonies of the Third Reich were only the fall of the House of Burgundy all over again”). The key players (Ingo, Isaac, Butler and Hagen, now an SS officer) will converge in a bloody climax weighed down by references to Macbeth and Clausewitz.

A pretentious farrago.

Pub Date: Aug. 18th, 2006
ISBN: 0-307-26359-2
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2006


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