This is an epic novel about an affluent family who are estranged by loyalties to different countries at the onset of World War I. Two young menâone from France, the other from Germanyâexpatriate themselves to Argentina thus avoiding military service just prior to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. There they rise to inherited wealth and both eventually return with their families: each to his native land. Once there, they increase their wealth only to lose all that matters in the early hostilities of World War I. Through several characters, Ibanez explores extensively the philosophy of the early combatants (France, Germany and Russia). He also parallels the first phase of the war to the conflict of 1870 (He mentions this several times).
At this point, the reader should be grounded in the extended hostilities between France and Germany, at least from the Napoleonic Wars). Several novels come to mind should one prefer them to non-fiction.
Napoleonic Wars: Alexandre Dumas âThe Last Cavalierâ and Leo Tolstoy âWar and Peaceâ
Franco-Prussian War: Emile Zola âLa Debacleâ (The Downfall) and Erckmann-Chartrian novels
World War I: Erich Maria Remarque âAll Quiet On the Western Frontâ and âThe Road Backâ as well as John Masters âLoss of Eden Trilogyâ and âThe Ravi Lancersâ
All the horrors of war are seen largely through the eyes of the non-combatants who await the approach of the four horsemenâplague, war, famine, and deathâwith increasing apprehension. He closes with a diatribe against the pedants of the universities, whom he considers obscurantists, and blames for their obfuscation of truth and invention of facts in order to foster philosophies and ideologies that ultimately invoke the apocalyptic beast. He acknowledges that the beast will return: prophetic of World War II.