A moving, complex and well-crafted fictional biography uses pivotal historic events of the 20th century as its venue.
Henry Brown is the last of three sons born in London in 1901 to Leopold and Charlotte Brown, a wealthy Anglo-Jewish family. Orphaned at 18, Leopold is bestowed a hefty inheritance, but lacking drive and ambition, he accomplishes little with it. Wanting his three sons to acquire a better education and achieve more, he and Charlotte hire governesses to teach the boys art, music and language. They are raised in a structured and orderly Edwardian environment, but contrary to the popular method of child rearing of the era, the boys spend much time with their parents, living happily in their grand home in London as well as in their country home in Wycombe. Life is good–until 1914 when England is pulled into World War I, and Henry’s brothers are claimed as victims. Their deaths prove to be the trigger point for the demise of Henry’s parents’ marriage, with Charlotte becoming absorbed by important political and charitable work and Leopold eventually drinking himself to death. Apprehensive of following in his brothers’ footsteps into the army, Henry opts for military school. Capable, intelligent and multilingual, Henry is appointed an attachÃ© to the Viceroy of India, the first of many political positions he will serve. He meets and falls in love with Henrietta, the daughter of wealthy and staunch anti-Semitic parents, and their marriage is a contented one–she soon gives birth to a son and daughter. But a mission in Berlin leads to a tragic and pivotal moment in his life. Henrietta, who thrives on attending lavish galas with socialites, is swept up in the rising popularity of the FÃ¼hrer and becomes a strong proponent of Nazi ideology. For a while, Henry tolerates her anti-Semitism until he sees that their children are next to be indoctrinated. The complex political and cultural situations are skillfully managed and Maitland-Lewis renders the multitudinous cast of characters with marvelous detail. Only some instances of improbable dialogue interrupt the easy flow.
A touching read, with a fictional character to admire.