A twentieth century life

When novice chauffeur, Johan Thoms, takes a wrong turn while dreaming of his beloved, this seemingly innocent event will catapult Europe into the First World War and a century of human destruction. For this is Sarajevo in the Balkan powder keg of 1914, and his passengers are Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife, Sophie, heirs to the Hapsburg Empire. Many years later Thoms meets the son of his greatest friend, and is finally able to make his own peace with the world that he believes he has destroyed.

I adored Ian Thornton's The great and calamitous tale of Johan Thoms. It's a wonderful picaresque tale spanning the century and the continent speaking of love and loss in a way that is unique to Johan Thoms' disordered mind, but which is also a tale of Everyman in that most turbulent of centuries.

Thoms and his motley gang of friends are outsiders looking in, but are also at the heart of events. And this is very clever, as this must have been what it was like for so many people. Ordinary men and women pulled into the wars that raged at the heart of the century. Alongside the fictional characters, real men and women drift in and out too - a wonderfully acerbic Dorothy Parker, a lovable George Orwell, and an eccentric Ernest Hemingway featuring in one of the most memorable moments in the novel.

At times comic, sometimes poignant or angry, always beautifully written. This weird, eccentric, compelling tale held me transfixed from beginning to end. If it isn't already on your To Be Read list, it should be. A dazzling story.


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