The Eighth Wonder of the World

Overview

A magnificent new novel that strikingly reimagines Fascist Italy.

When Benito Mussolini announces a worldwide competition for a monument to celebrate his victory over Ethiopia, the winning design is an almost unimaginable mile-high tower, La Vittoria, created by the famed American architect, Amos Prince. In his struggle to bring this modern Babel to completion in the face of every conceivable obstacle—including Mussolini's wavering support and loss of power, and the vicissitudes...

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Overview

A magnificent new novel that strikingly reimagines Fascist Italy.

When Benito Mussolini announces a worldwide competition for a monument to celebrate his victory over Ethiopia, the winning design is an almost unimaginable mile-high tower, La Vittoria, created by the famed American architect, Amos Prince. In his struggle to bring this modern Babel to completion in the face of every conceivable obstacle—including Mussolini's wavering support and loss of power, and the vicissitudes of a world war–Prince will lose his family, his native country, and perhaps even his mind.

Interwoven with the story of Amos Prince is that of Maximilian Shabilian, a recent graduate of Yale who journeys to Rome to attach himself to the world's greatest architect. As World War II progresses, Max becomes inextricably bound up with the building of the tower and with Prince's family, above all with his beautiful and mysterious daughter Aria. In the end he must choose between his devotion to his mentor and his loyalty to his fellow Jews, who are increasingly threatened by the Fascist regime in Italy. Remembering who built the pyramids in Egypt and the Arch of Titus in Rome, Max decides to use La Vittoria to protect his people. In a moment of terrible, tragic irony, the very plan that was designed to save the Jews ends up delivering them to their unspeakable fate.

In 2005 the aged Shabilian makes a fearful journey back to Italy. This epic novel, then, spans millennia, from Solomon and Sheba 3,500 years ago to Mussolini, the Caesar of the Twentieth Century—dictator who is half a posturing clown and half the menacing tyrant who, with magnetic force, determines the fate of nations. Finally, in its remarkable concluding chapter, Maximilian confronts the present ruler of Italy, Berlusconi, whose grip on Italian life may be far more powerful than that of any of the Caesars who came before him.

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Editorial Reviews

Ross King
Mussolini's vanity, buffoonery and general incompetence take starring roles in Leslie Epstein's new novel, The Eighth Wonder of the World, a story of Italian fascism and bombastic architectural ambition. The mix is tailor-made for Epstein's talents. Over the course of nine previous books, he has fixed his trenchant gaze on such dark passages of 20th-century history as the Holocaust (his classic King of the Jews) and the House Un-American Activities Committee (his most recent outing, San Remo Drive). Here, as in the earlier novels, the tragic and the inane are slyly spliced together, with inflated delusions punctured by sharp barbs of satire.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Epstein's (King of the Jews; San Remo Drive) ninth book imagines a wisecracking American architectural genius, Amos Prince, who, after fleeing America, wows Mussolini with the design for a mile-high skyscraper. The absurdist encounters between these two men-alongside Rome's Arch of Titus or in the staterooms of the Hindenberg-read like scenes from an opera buffa, in which Mussolini's barking, self-aggrandizing oratory is hilariously undercut by Amos's sly wordplay. The novel soon focuses on Amos's young Jewish-American acolyte, Maximilian Shabilian, who shares Prince's obsessive dream of completing the tower and becomes entangled with the architect's dysfunctional family (and, predictably, his beautiful daughter). As World War II intensifies, Amos descends into livid anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, while Max launches a tragic attempt to save the Jews of Rome by enlisting them to work on the skyscraper. The complexly structured narrative leaps between a turbulent present-day plane ride, flashbacks to 1930s and '40s Italy and Amos's rambling journal entries. Some readers may feel uneasy at the mixing of farce and tragic fact, and the novel doesn't shy away from unpleasantness; descriptions of violence are unflinching. But artful writing sustains a novel as ambitious as the Babel-like tower it describes. (Oct. 17) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Epstein's forte is absurdist literature combining comedy and tragedy, as in his King of the Jews. Now he turns his kaleidoscopic view to a novel of Fascist Italy, offering a huge historic as well as fictional cast of characters stretching back to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, who appear as progenitors of Haile Selassie, the "Lion of Judah, Emperor of Ethiopia." Mussolini and Pope Pius XII are among the counterparts who appear in spectacles in the Roman Theater in Rome in 1936, along with the Zeppelin airship, Hindenberg. Protagonist Amos Prince, a famed American architect, wins the competition to build a monument for Mussolini called La Vittoria. When completed, this mile-high structure will be the tallest in the world. Prince's devoted protege, Max Shabilian, a Jew torn between the monumental project and his attempt to save the Jews of Rome, presents one of the many conundrums that drive this powerful novel. Highly recommended.-Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The fate of Italy's Jews during World War II and the visionary folly of a truculent anti-Semitic genius are the subjects of Epstein's sprawling, ambitious tenth novel. The complex narrative juxtaposes three interconnected stories: the memories of aged Max Shabilian during a 2005 return flight to Rome, where he had become the de facto right-hand man (and son-in-law) of maverick American architect Amos Prince; the diary in which Prince recorded his experiences, insights and prejudices; and a chronological account of the rise and fall of Mussolini's brutal Fascist dictatorship. Epstein's maze-like approach-which begins with "A Prologue" recounting acts of aggrandizement from the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 1000 b.c. to Mussolini's 1936 seizure of Ethiopia, and ends with a bitter summary of World War II's waning days-takes some getting used to. But the story soars as we learn of Amos's scheme to immortalize "Il Duce" by erecting a memorial mile-high skyscraper (La Vittoria) and realize that he'll pay any price (not excluding the surrender of his beautiful daughter Aria to the dictator's lust) to fulfill his grandiose dreams. And the story escalates to tragic proportions when Max (a Jew) conceives a plan to save captive Jews from being delivered to Italy's ally the Third Reich, only to see it backfire, making him, not the savior he had hoped to be, but "Max the murderer." Compelling (if sometimes overdrawn) extended scenes vividly portray the accumulating madness, and Epstein offers rich expressionistic characterizations of such startling figures as cantankerous Amos (who combines the worst qualities of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ezra Pound), his Fascist- and Nazi-loving son Franklin, Mussolini'stempestuous Party Secretary Farinacci and politically savvy Chief Rabbi of Rome Israel Zolli (among many others). Epstein's best book since his 1979 triumph King of the Jews-a synthesis of history and imaginative daring, akin to Catch-22 and the encyclopedic historical fiction of Thomas Pynchon and William T. Vollmann.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590512500
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 10/17/2006
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.05 (w) x 15.15 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Leslie Epstein

Leslie Epstein, whose father and uncle, Philip G. and Julius J. Epstein, wrote Arsenic and Old Lace, Casablanca, and many other classics of the golden era of films, is the author of nine previous books of fiction, including King of the Jews and San Remo Drive, both published by Handsel Books/Other Press. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, where for many years he has directed the Creative Writing Program at Boston University.

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