This one didn’t work for me as much as Part I, The 42nd Parallel, did. As much as I know these books aren’t really about characters, it helped in the first installment to be able to at least get caught up as much in the stories as in the news. Here, Dos Passos is much more focused on the news. The writing is more didactic and caustic. That’s not to say that there aren’t elegant passages. Consider (73-74) –
Bordeaux, the red Garonne, the pastelcolored streets of old tall mansardroofed houses, the sunlight and shadow so delicately blue and yellow, the names of the stations all out of Shakespeare, the yellowbacked novels on the bookstands, the bottles of wine in the buvettes, were nothing like he’d imagined. All the way to Paris the faintly bluegreen fields were scattered scarlet with poppies like the first lines of a poem; the little train jogged along in dactyls; everything seemed to fall into rhyme.
What struck me in this middle installment was how much it resonated with today’s news, particularly the question of who profits from war vs. who fights in it. Dos Passos ends with a gorgeous tribute to the Unknown Soldier that celebrates the everyman and skewers Woodrow Wilson at the same time.
So I’ll finish this trilogy. . . in a little while.