Prelude to Pulitzer: Between Two Worlds by Upton Sinclair

Plot Summary:

In 1940 Upton Sinclair returned to the literary scene with World’s End, a novel which delighted thousands of readers and caused H. G. Wells to remark of it:

“A great and well-balanced design…I think it the most competent and most faithful picture of that period that has been done, or is likely to be done.”

In his new novel, Between Two Worlds, he presents another thrilling narrative of Lanny Budd’s human journey, carrying his young hero through that turbulent, brutal, wealthy era that began with the Treaty of Versailles and ended with the 1929 crash.

The book is so rich in action and varied scent that a mere catalogue of its contents reads like a novelist’s lifetime repertoire. It includes six full-length love stories; four weddings and two separations; two murders and one near-hanging. The scenes include a Riviera village, a German Schloss, three French chateaux and an imitation one on Long Island; three yacht cruises, and many visits to Paris, London, Berlin, Munich, Geneva, Genoa, Rome, and Leningrad. Historic characters include Hitler, Mussolini, John Sargent, Anatole France, Lincoln Steffens, Isadora Duncan, and Sir Basil Zaharoff. Historic events include six great international conferences; the early days of Italian Fascism and of German Nazism; the Great Bull Market in New York and the panic of 1929 which broke it.

Around Lanny are all the characters that have won the affection and respect of thousands of readers in the months just past–Beauty and Robbie, Kurt and Rick, Jesse Blackless and Rosemary Codwilliger–and with them a rich new cast. But though readers of World’s End will renew their acquaintances with pleasure, it is not necessary to have read the first book to appreciate the second. Upton Sinclair’s theme is the world of the twentieth century, and it is enough to have lived in that time to understand and enjoy his story wherever he picks up its thread.

My Thoughts:

Picking up shortly after the end of World’s End, Between Two Worlds continues the story of Lanny Budd as he manages to find himself in the middle of every important world event in Europe and the United States over between 1919 and 1929. Lanny attends a number of conferences in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles as the nations involved attempted to clarify, adjust, and amend the treaty.  Lanny finds himself interacting with Mussolini, Hitler, and others as he attempts to navigate his own political and economic beliefs while faced with Russian communism, Italian fascism, German Nazism, American capitalism, and any number of other beliefs and systems and protests. Continue reading

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Prelude to Pulitzer: World’s End by Upton Sinclair

Plot Summary:

The son of an American arms dealer and his mistress, Lanning “Lanny” Budd spends his first thirteen years in Europe, living at the center of his mother’s glamorous circle of friends on the French Riviera. In 1913, he enters a prestigious Swiss boarding school and befriends Rick, an English boy, and Kurt, a German. The three schoolmates are privileged, happy, and precocious—but their world is about to come to an abrupt and violent end.
When the gathering storm clouds of war finally burst, raining chaos and death over the continent, Lanny must put the innocence of youth behind him; his language skills and talent for decoding messages are in high demand. At his father’s side, he meets many important political and military figures, learns about the myriad causes of the conflict, and closely follows the First World War’s progress. When the bloody hostilities eventually conclude, Lanny joins the Paris Peace Conference as the assistant to a geographer asked by President Woodrow Wilson to redraw the map of Europe.
World’s End is the magnificent opening chapter of a monumental series that brings the first half of the twentieth century to vivid life. A thrilling mix of history, adventure, and romance, the Lanny Budd Novels are a testament to the breathtaking scope of Upton Sinclair’s vision and his singular talents as a storyteller.

My Thoughts:

My first thought on reading World’s End was that Lanny Budd was some sort of early 20th Century Forrest Gump. He just happened to be in all the important places and run into all the important people as he gallivanted across Europe in the years before and during World War 1. He is, of course, a literary device more than he is a character, and is most often a vehicle for perspective and commentary on world events. His father is a capitalist arms manufacturer, giving Lanny a view into the economy of war. His uncle is a communist sympathizer, organizing labor unions and protests, introducing Lanny to a variety of other political characters. His two best friends before the war are an Englishman and a German. His mother’s connections across France keep him tied to the wealthy elite of Europe throughout the book, and yet his penchant for playing with the village children growing up in France allows him to be at ease with the common folk across the world. Continue reading

1941 Near Miss: The Trees by Conrad Richter

Plot Summary:

The Trees is a moving novel of the beginning of the American trek to the west. Toward the close of the eighteenth century, the land west of the Alleghenies and north of the Ohio River was an unbroken sea of trees. Beneath them the forest trails were dark, silent, and lonely, brightened only by a few lost beams of sunlight. Here, in the first novel of Conrad Richter’s Awakening Land trilogy, the Lucketts, a wild, woods-faring family, lived their roaming life, pushing ever westward as the frontier advanced and as new settlements threatened their isolation. This novel gives an excellent feel for America’s lost woods culture, which was created when most of the eastern midwest was a vast hardwood forest—virtually a jungle. The Trees conveys settler life, including conflicts with Native Americans, illness, hunting, family dynamics, and marriage.

My Thoughts:

My first, and until now, only, interaction with the works of Conrad Richter was in my 7th grade English class, in which Mr. Vardeman took us through his later novel, The Light in the Forest, a class that I find hard to forget, even 16 years later. While The Light in the Forest focused on the clash of cultures between Native Americans and European settlers in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, his novel The Trees follows a family who moves deeper into the uninhabited woods of Ohio, searching out game and a way of life, and watching settlement and society slowly grow around them over the years. The Trees forms the first part of what it called “The Awakening Trilogy” and is followed by The Fields and The Town, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1951. Continue reading

Prelude to Pulitzer: The Forge by T. S. Stribling

When I started reading The Store, I didn’t realize it was the sequel to T. S. Stribling’s previous novel, The Forge, and found that the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel worked well on its own, without having read The Forge, but I decided to go back and read the first novel, to see how it interacted with its sequel and whether or not Stribling had anything more or different to say. And the short version is that he did.

The Forge follows the Vaiden family in a much more general sense, instead of focusing primarily on Miltiades, the protagonist of The Store. And perhaps the most fascinating thing about it is that it seems to work just as well reading it after The Store as I could imagine it would work reading it before. There are hints of unresolved mysteries in The Store, such as the murder of Polycarp Vaiden, Miltiades’ brother, which, instead of staying mysteries within The Forge, are actually resolved, but the characters who discover the truth are either not present in The Store, or are minor characters, and the mysteries, since they were resolved in the first novel, are only mysteries to the various narrators. Additionally, The Forge focuses on a completely different era, looking at the years before, during, and immediately after the Civil War, when things were confused and falling apart and anything but neat and tidy. Allegiances and loyalties are tested and strained, and Stribling isn’t afraid to show the darknesses on both sides of the war.

What is interesting about reading The Forge second, however, is wondering how things are going to end up the way they do in the later book. Though Miltiades’ love of one woman but marriage to another are spoken of at length in The Store, it is a different matter altogether to see it happen in real time, and the storyline that really takes its time developing is Miltiades’ sister Marcia’s. Jerry Catlin is her son who comes to town early in The Store and becomes one of the primary characters, but for most of The Forge, Marcia is engaged to another man, and Jerry Catlin’s father is an abolitionist from Tennessee, making any sort of interaction with Marcia strained, especially during the war when her family’s property is raided by Union soldiers during the war, soldiers in the same company as Jerry Catlin Sr. Continue reading

Prelude to Pulitzer: The Harbor by Ernest Poole

Perhaps I am merely a glutton for punishment (though I don’t find reading very punishing), or perhaps I just want to make sure I approach this experiment thoroughly, so I’ve decided to read a few more books than are necessary, in order to understand the Pulitzer Prize selections and controversies. And the first of these is The Harbor by Ernest Poole. Poole would later win the first Pulitzer Prize in the Novel category for His Family a few years later, but it is widely suggested that the 1915 novel The Harbor was instrumental in his winning the prize, and many would say that winning the Pulitzer for His Family was really a recognition for the work he did in The Harbor. So I decided to read them both.

Influenced by a number of workers strikes and the rising labor movement of the 1910s, The Harbor follows a middle class writer from his childhood days, living with the New York harbor visible from his backyard, through a period of time in which he entertained and celebrated the wealthy and powerful, before being drawn into, and sympathizing with, the labor movement and the mistreated harbor workers. The Harbor is propaganda, pure and simple, but that isn’t enough to discount it altogether. After all, the film Casablanca is pure propaganda, and it’s still well worth watching.

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