Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dragon's Teeth

Finished Dragon's Teeth by Upton Sinclair. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1942. It's the third novel in Sinclair's Lanny Budd Series. Lanny is a Franco-American playboy whose family owns and manufactures Budd firearms. Lanny is married to Irma, an heiress with far more money than he has. They live a glamorous life on the French Riviera. In some ways they remind me of characters in a Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, Americans who appear at fashionable European watering holes, with no aim in life but to be comfortable. This is not however true of Lanny Budd.

In the early 1930s, when much of the world is dabbling in Communism, Lanny is a Pink, a socialist. He's not adverse to adventure, so when his long-time friend Johannes, a Jewish banker living in Germany, is arrested by the Nazis, Lanny and Irma travel to Germany, posing as Nazi sympathizers, and bargain for Johannes' release. During this time Lanny befriends several Nazi officers of various ranks. He also meets Hitler, Geobbels and Goring, all who are impressed with Lanny and with his wife's millions.

After quite a lot of schmoozing, Lanny and Irma successfully escort Johannes, his wife, daughter-in-law, and grandchild across the border and out of harm's way. But Freddi, Johannes' son, has gone missing. Lanny spends a year trying to locate and rescue Freddi, a gentle musician who Lanny mentored on the path to Socialist beliefs and activities. Lanny's efforts land him in a Nazi jail where he witnesses firsthand the treatment of political prisoners.

Sinclair's characterizations of the high ranking Nazis is multifaceted. While their monstrosity is obvious in the plot of the novel, he paints Hitler as a soft spoken (when he's not raving) vegetarian who loves to play with children, and Goring as a medieval English lord, who hunts and feasts and keeps a lion cub in his office for company. Don't get me wrong. I don't think Sinclair is trying to humanize these characters. I think he is showing us the very fine line between humans and murderous lunatics.

The book is filled with other interesting charaters. Lanny's boyhood friends Rick (an Englishman who flew with the RAF in WWI, now bent on exposing the growing Nazi threat to the world) and Kurt (a German composer, who sadly has drunk the Fuhrer's Koolaid). All three were friends before the war came between them. There is Lanny's mother, Beauty, who had Kurt as her lover for eight years. She is now married to a spiritual philosopher and keeps a Polish medium around for contacting the other side.

I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to. There are ten in the series. I am sorry that I did not read the first two before this one. All of the books were bestsellers in their time. They are virtually unknown today. I've just requested the first in the series, World's End, from the University library. It is in deep storage. I may have to wait a while before it is available.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Best of Everything

Finished The Best of Everything by Ronna Jaffe. Originally published in 1958, it's the story of a group of women working at a New York publishing firm. This book has been on my TBR list for a while. I was prompted to move it up after reading a piece in The New York Times about a new stage production based on the novel.

The story of these women is compelling because of the changes taking place in society and the microcosm of the Manhattan workplace. Each character starts out in the typing pool. Several obtain their MRS degrees along the way and are able to leave their typewriters behind to become wives and mothers. While some have aspired to this all along, a few see their career as their ultimate fulfillment. I found myself thinking of Peggy Olson from Mad Men throughout the book. In fact, it's clear that Mad Men is informed by Jaffe's novel.