From Publishers Weekly
Epstein's (King of the Jews
; San Remo Drive
) ninth book imagines a wisecracking American architectural genius, Amos Prince, who, after fleeing America, wows Mussolini with the design for a mile-high skyscraper. The absurdist encounters between these two men—alongside Rome's Arch of Titus or in the staterooms of the Hindenberg
—read like scenes from an opera buffa, in which Mussolini's barking, self-aggrandizing oratory is hilariously undercut by Amos's sly wordplay. The novel soon focuses on Amos's young Jewish-American acolyte, Maximilian Shabilian, who shares Prince's obsessive dream of completing the tower and becomes entangled with the architect's dysfunctional family (and, predictably, his beautiful daughter). As World War II intensifies, Amos descends into livid anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, while Max launches a tragic attempt to save the Jews of Rome by enlisting them to work on the skyscraper. The complexly structured narrative leaps between a turbulent present-day plane ride, flashbacks to 1930s and '40s Italy and Amos's rambling journal entries. Some readers may feel uneasy at the mixing of farce and tragic fact, and the novel doesn't shy away from unpleasantness; descriptions of violence are unflinching. But artful writing sustains a novel as ambitious as the Babel-like tower it describes. (Oct. 17)
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Epstein's latest novel is no departure from his signature rambling and high-energy style. Traveling back and forth in time between the present day and World War II-era Italy, the narrative mixes real historical figures such as Benito Mussolini with fictional and larger-than-life figures that could only come from a wild imagination. At the center of this absurdist tale is Amos Prince, a blustery and buffoonish famous architect competing to erect a memorial to Italy's triumph over Ethiopia. Amos is attended--and adored--by the story's narrator, Max Shabalian, his right-hand man. Max remembers the strange goings-on surrounding Amos and his entourage with a shell-shocked and nervous, nebbishy voice, despite his true place as the most stable-thinking member of the group. Absurd scenes--like a party aboard the Hindenburg
, during which Mussolini's lover is attacked for smoking--abound in this novel, and those, combined with the shifting time frame, can make it difficult to follow, but a patient reader will enjoy the broad scope of this ambitious work. Debi LewisCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved