Dragon’s Teeth (The Lanny Budd Novels #3), Upton Sinclair. New York: Open Road Media, 2016 (originally published 1942).
Summary: As Irma’s fortune wanes, Lanny uses his art dealings both for income and to secure release of the Robins, who are swept up in the anti-Semitism of pre-war Nazi Germany.]
This is the third of eleven books Upton Sinclair wrote around young, well-connected Lanny Budd, set in the years between the two wars and World War 2. In my review of book #2, I noted a Matthew Arnold quote about “Wandering between two worlds, one dead,/The other powerless to be born.” and hoping the wandering would end with this book. If anything, Lanny and Irma’s wanderings around Europe seem more pronounced with yacht trips and migrations from Bienvenu on the Riviera to Paris, Berlin, and Munich.
If there is a plot line, it revolves around the Robin family, a Jewish financier and his sons, Hansi and Freddi and their spouses. Hansi and Freddi were swept up into Lanny’s “pink” socialism, while Johannes had cultivated a business relationship with Lanny’s father, a gun manufacturer. Johannes thinks his affluence protects him and his family. It turned out otherwise. Lanny negotiates the family’s freedom with Hermann Goring, at the cost of the Robin fortune. But Freddi is left behind, and eventually reported in Dachau. Much of the story revolves Lanny’s efforts to get him out of Germany.
Under his trade as an art dealer, he goes in and out of Germany, holding shows of his step father, Marcel Detaze’s paintings. He mutes his socialism and cultivates ties with Goebbels, Goring, and even Hitler, who he meets twice. Throughout, the question is really who is using who, but a significant part of the narrative is an expose’ of the growing persecution of the Jews, the “disappearings,” and the ambitions of the Fuhrer.
Lanny and Irma make a glamour couple with her fortune and his looks, though that fortune is “declining” due to the crash of the market. In this book, one senses increasing tension between the daughter of capitalists and the socialist Lanny. Each indulge to a point the wishes of others, but Lanny’s efforts to rescue his Jewish, socialist friends at the risk of his life clearly strains the relationship as Irma sees more clearly who she married, and Lanny wrestles with the circuits around Europe, seeing and being seen. Irma wants to host a salon. Lanny wants to find some greater purpose, preferably resisting the rising Nazi threat, whose measure he has accurately taken.
This book won a Pulitzer in 1943. I personally wonder what this says about other published works of that year. Most of the action and excitement happens in the last 100 pages of a 600 page book. The rest is hundreds of pages of wanderings around Europe whose main purpose is to show Western society’s last flurry’s as Nazism arose–the dissolution of the French government against the backdrop of a German society buying order and prosperity at the cost of the suppression of the Jews and the rise of tyranny. I do think Sinclair could have cut at least 200 pages out of this book without harm either to the plot or Sinclair’s polemic purposes.
Reviews of previous books in the series: