Waltenberg, By Hédi Kaddour

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The Independent Culture

If you can't yet face the relentless blood and thunder of Littell's The Kindly Ones, here's another French epic that drives headlong through the drama and horror of Europe in the past century – but does so on the chassis of a finely-engineered spy novel.

Waltenberg spans 1914 to 1991, from the first bout of total war, grippingly conjured, to the delirious crack-up of the Soviet empire: Eric Hobsbawm's "short 20th century". Friendships - and betrayals - across the borders of geopolitics and ideology, especially among French, Germans and Americans, form the beating heart of a complex intrigue.

Kaddour's shifting time-frames and viewpoints shed glittering light on high politics, low passions and the ruined vistas of history. Brilliant scene-setting and resonant ideas make this a thinking reader's espionage blockbuster that - in David Coward's luminous translation - stimulates and grips.