As in Keneally's portrait of Joan of Arc, Blood Red, Sister Rose (1974), this treatment of a historical event - the Armistice negotiations which ended World War I - explores the roots of personal and political power. The railroad car in the forest of Compiegne, where the meetings between the allies and a hastily assembled group of Germans took place, was appropriately shunted to a siding - away from the thousands who died and the millions who would live by what was decided there. The delegates bring their playthings into the crowded car: Marshall Foch his self-sanctified conviction that wars are won by "moral force"; aristocrats of both sides their cherished hierarchies; and Matthias Erzberger, who Finds himself spokesman for the Germans, his conscience - a luxury for which he will never be forgiven at home. While the negotiators indulge in "mystical exercises" or bargain for ships and sealing wax, some dream (Foch, of mute soldiers hiding in the forest; Erzberger of "pale soldiers. . . seeping waters") while others grumble fearfully about socialism and tell tall tales. There was, for example, the story of a suicidal horse. . . "What rider (now) would be safe?" The air becomes stale and close and (in Keneally's one unfounded fantasy) a couple make love on the negotiating table: "It was insufferable to think that in such a little space. . . eight men (could) weave a scab over that pit of corpses four years deep." With dramatic dialogue insets, this is a ruthless pursuit of those leaders who, as Foch remembers Joan of Arc, can make us "swallow things whole." (Kirkus Reviews)
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About the Author
Thomas Keneally is renowned as the author of Schindler's List, which was awarded the Booker Prize and made into an Academy Award-winning film by Steven Spielberg. His latest work is The Great Shame, a narrative history of the Irish diaspora. He is author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction and is one of Australia's leading literary figures. He lives in Sydney.