The Generals Hardcover – 1974
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The generals and admirals conducting the courts-martial of one Corporal Edwin Velder in Per Wahloo' s The Generals were nothing if not sure of themselves.
By way of background, Per Wahloo and his literary (and domestic) partner Maj Sjowall teamed up in the 19960s to write the Inspector Martin Beck series of books, starting with The Laughing Policeman (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard). Writers such as Jo Nesbo have referred to them, as Nesbo does on this book's cover, as the godparents of Scandinavian crime fiction. The series ended with Wahloo's death in 1975. I did not know, until Vintage Crime/Black Lizard decided to republish them this past year, that Wahloo had written four dark, nourish books on his own. The Generals is one of them and it is well worth-reading.
The story is an interesting concoction: it one part reminiscent of Koestler's Darkness at Noon as we see laid before us the story of one man's role in war and revolution; and one part Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory as we look at and mock the preening arrogance and gross incompetence of those sometimes chosen to lead. The story is set on an unnamed island nation that had recently overthrown its colonial European rulers in a bloodless coup. Set up as some sort of Randian/libertarian paradise, the free market and the absence of any laws or rules governing social conduct quickly turns the island into something of a vacation Garden of Eden (Garden of Hedon might be more apt) and the island prospers. However, as one might expect certain forces conspires to put an end to this tyranny, battle lines are drawn between the old guard power base (now reconstituted as some sort of Marxist ruling class) and a new ruling elite with a focus on a return to traditional values. The latter takes power after a bloody civil war. The story is told in the form of the transcript of the trial of one seemingly, seemingly, little player in the civil war, a militiaman Edwin Velder. Set in the context of the courts-martial the story is revealed slowly in the form of Velder's testimony and by way of the prosecution's case and the comments of the military high command sitting in judgment.
The Generals works as a story on a number of different levels. First, Wahloo's use of the transcript is very-well done. The storyline is revealed slowly and cleverly. Velder's physical condition and the personality of the Generals is not revealed directly but obliquely and casually, and I found myself reading between the lines as much as the lines themselves. There is a great deal of dark humor in the story even as one winces at the preening arrogance and incompetence of the powers that be.
This is not what I would call an openly political polemic. As more is revealed of Velder and his allies in the civil war the less likely it is that anyone will find anyone with clean hands. So while there may not be any blatant `lessons' to be learned here there is a good story, one that kept me engaged from the start to the somewhat surprising finish. It was good enough that I am now making my way through the remainder of Wahloo's stand-alone work.
All-in-all I would not hesitate to recommend this, particularly to any reader familiar with the Inspector Beck series.