One of my biggest pet peeves of the Pulitzer Project thus far has been a prize-winner that’s part of a series. I know that the Pulitzer Prize is supposed to be awarded to the best book of the year and, sometimes, the best book of the year happens to be a part of a series, but it’s frustrating knowing that I’m reading something that’s just one small part of a larger story. Sometimes these books aren’t so great and I’m forced to wonder “Maybe they make sense when put in context of the larger story;” sometimes they’re pretty good and I wonder what the rest of the story is like. Books like The Good Earth, The Town, Rabbit Is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest are all just mere glimpses at a much larger narrative. The novel I’m about to start reading—Upton Sinclair’s Dragon’s Teeth—is the third book of an eleven-part series: the Lanny Budd Series.
The first book in the series, World’s End, begins when Lanny is but 13. He is 47 when the last book, The Return of Lanny Budd, is finished in 1953. The son of an American arms manufacturer, Budd is portrayed as holding in the confidence of world leaders, and not simply witnessing events but often propelling them. Sinclair places Budd within the important political events in the United States and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. The narrative of this historical series begins in 1913 and ends in 1947. The reader is witness to two World Wars, one enormous depression, innumerable intimate conversations between Lanny Budd and various world leaders that include Churchill, Hitler, Goring, Hess, Stalin, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. For eight years, until Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Lanny acts as Presidential Agent 103. Using his art expertise and his father’s airplane manufacturing as cover, Lanny is able to do the impossible. Meeting with the infamous leaders of the world, posing as a Nazi sympathizer while financially and emotionally supporting the underground resistance movements against the Nazis and Fascists in Germany, France, England, and Italy.
Today out of print and nearly forgotten, the novels were bestsellers upon publication and were published in translation, appearing in 21 countries. Before I start reading Dragon’s Teeth, I decided it would behoove me to figure out what Sinclair already covers in the first two parts.
I. “World’s End”
World’s End is the first novel of Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd series. First published in 1940, after World War II had begun in Europe the previous year, the story covers the period from 1913 to 1919, before and after World War I.
Lanny Budd is a teenage student at a private school in Germany for music and dance. Budd, born in Switzerland, is the grandson of the president of Budd Gunmakers in New England. His parents are American born: his father is the European sales representative, and his mother, his father’s former mistress, is supported in grand style on the French Riviera.
The story follows Lanny Budd, his English schoolmate Rick, and his German friend Kurt through World War I. In the aftermath, Budd joins the staff of the U.S. delegation for the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles. The plot and characters are developed to reveal historical facts as well as the ideological tensions at the time.
Budd was troubled by knowing his two closest friends were involved on opposite sides of the major war. Later he was disturbed by what he considered the failure of the negotiations at Versailles to get past the bitterness of the French and British people against Germany.
II. BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
This volume deals with the aftermath of World War I in Europe during the 1920s (with the Beer Hall Putsch, the Italian fascist regime, and some of the important conferences), and later the Roaring Twenties.
After two disastrous affairs with married women Lanny marries in the end a rich heiress from New York, Irma. In the climax Lanny covers his father’s stock market margin call on Black Thursday, Oct 24th 1929, then insists that his father sell all his stocks the next market day, thus escaping the carnage of Black Tuesday.
His efforts to save his wife’s wealth were not quite as successful, and her uncle was wiped out.
So, that’s where we are.