The Eighth Won­der of the World

  • Review
By – May 25, 2012

The author has cre­at­ed a mul­ti-lay­ered nov­el that fol­lows Max­i­m­il­ian Sha­bil­ian from 1936 until 2005, bounc­ing not only between three lev­els of nar­ra­tive: the first per­son, the first per­son view from a note­book and the omni­scient, but through sev­er­al time peri­ods. This at times becomes con­fus­ing and requires the read­er to pay stu­dious atten­tion to the writer’s every word, nuance and transition.

The sto­ry begins with an aged Max­i­m­il­ian head­ing back to Rome in the com­pa­ny of his grand­daugh­ter. While it is all too appar­ent to the read­er that he has had a stroke and feels pity for him­self, noth­ing about his con­di­tion is spelled out specif­i­cal­ly. He is head­ing to Rome for an award cer­e­mo­ny of some sort, and the air­plane ride, which is the vehi­cle for telling the sto­ry through his mem­o­ries, is filled with almost as much adven­ture and mis­ad­ven­ture as the Ital­ian years he tells us about. While the prose is writ­ten with a pow­er­ful­ly mas­ter­ful hand, the sto­ry is hard to accept. The premise is that Ben­i­to Mus­soli­ni holds a con­test to cre­ate the mon­u­ment to cel­e­brate his vic­to­ry over Ethiopia, and one Amos Prince, an Amer­i­can archi­tect of some renown joins the con­test and wins it. At his side is his appren­tice, Max­i­m­il­ian Shabilian.

Max­i­m­il­ian, a recent Yale grad­u­ate and a Jew, finds him­self not only in the mid­dle of Fas­cist Italy, but at the left hand of Mus­soli­ni him­self. It is from his eyes that we fol­low the adven­ture, and in his hands rests the fate of every­one around him, from the rene­gade archi­tect and his fam­i­ly (includ­ing his daugh­ter, with whom Max­i­m­il­ian has fall­en in love) to all the Jews of Italy.

This wild­ly fan­tas­tic sto­ry trou­bled me great­ly, as it por­trayed the Jews of Italy as a whin­ing peo­ple who put Italy and Mus­soli­ni ahead of their own Jew­ish­ness. The Chief Rab­bi of Rome, for exam­ple, appears to always be in hid­ing behind the skirt (or per­haps robes) of Pope Pius. And through­out, a love-sick Max is put into impos­si­ble sit­u­a­tions and seems to be the only Jew in Italy who cares or tries to help his fel­low Jews, even though he bare­ly con­sid­ers him­self a Jew.

The Eighth Won­der of the World is pop­u­lat­ed by mad­men, syco­phan­tic women, ego­cen­tric and mani­a­cal­ly self­ish humans, and is a dark look at the Italy of World War II and of the Ger­mans and Ital­ians who stood togeth­er to destroy so much of the world and the peo­ple with­in it. The Glos­sary of Char­ac­ters should be read pri­or to begin­ning the novel.

David M. Wind began writ­ing in 1979 and since then has pub­lished 33 nov­els of sus­pense, adven­ture, sci­ence fic­tion, his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, and romance. Liv­ing and writ­ing in Chest­nut Ridge, NY, David shares his home with his wife, Bon­nie. David’s lat­est mystery/​suspense nov­el, Angels In Mourn­ing was award­ed the Book of The Month award for April 2009 by bookawards​.com. His web­site is http://​www​.david​wind​.com.

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