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At the heart of this wide-ranging epic is a murder, though it's not initially clear who the victim is, and the narrative goes on to take the form of a confession that weaves historical and scientific turning points into the crime. There's a huge cast of characters (and an appendix to help keep track), some famous, but mostly Volpi (In Search of Klingsor) presents everyday people whose lives eventually have as large an impact as dictators and Nobel Prize winners. Taking center stage are three mercurial women: Soviet biologist Irina, International Monetary Fund economist Jennifer and Hungarian scientist Eva; their personal and professional stories commingle as they are brought together by fate. A generous helping of racy material keeps the narrative from reading like a history book, though the many plots jumping between a dizzying cast can overwhelm. Volpi's style of storytelling is about understanding history not through wars or elections but through people. His portrayal of humanity is rewarding and, by the end, shattering. (Oct.)
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