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The Book of Kings by James Thackara

The Book of Kings

by James Thackara

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kswolff didn't like this book, but I am a sucker for long drawn-out sagas about war, so I went stoically through to the very end. I didn't suffer from any longeurs. Maybe I am too forgiving.
  libraryhermit | Oct 27, 2010 |
I couldn't get past page 250. Turgid, glacial prose. Since it was about an Important Topic (World War 2, the Holocaust), it used this as a justification to dump a garbage barge-size heap of literary pretentiousness on the unwary reader. It looks thick and heady, but avoid at all costs. ( )
  kswolff | Nov 11, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0879519231, Hardcover)

Landing on bookshelves with something between a bang and a whimper, The Book of Kings has been its own war as much as it is about war. Twenty-five years in the making, James Thackara's near-800 page tale focuses on four friends whose lives are both scattered and sculpted by the winds of Nazism. It is first and foremost a war novel, and an unbelievably ornate one at that. Thackara draws the particulars of tank battles as lavishly as he does the incessant dinner-party set pieces in which moneyed armchair military strategists opine. For instance, Hitler himself is best defined not from the handful of scenes he actually occupies but rather by the appearances he makes in the correspondence and parlor rumor of the book's vast supporting cast.

Deep within the recesses of this baggy monster, however, beats the heart of the more intimate novel suggested by its title (an hommage to the prophet Samuel's warning from God about the rise of man-made kings). Thackara's two main protagonists--David, alternately trading on and fighting against the awesome power of his family name, and Justin, the brooding intellect risen from humble beginnings to the role of renowned political fire-starter--wrestle with their own youthful hubris. The specter of Der Führer looming in the wings makes their struggle infinitely more resonant.

Ultimately, however, Thackara's nuanced approach to understanding the most horribly misguided mind of the 20th century is washed away by the sheer weight of historical footnote and battle choreography, as well as by a ceaseless flood of bombast ("Now I will kill the swindling, weak musician! Oh, sensitive one. Oh, conceited womanish one"). Granted, the epic, baroque, and grandiose aren't necessarily out of place in a novel about World War II, but ultimately it comes down to a question of proportion. War fanatics and those who prefer their fiction a bit... potboiled will thrill to Thackara's fascination with his subject. Those also looking for a more subtle spin on things, however, stand to be disappointed. --Bob Michaels

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:57 -0400)

A novel on World War II through the eyes of four men who before the war shared living quarters as students in Paris. Two are German, one is an American and one is French.

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