Friday 17 October 2014

The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms

Finished October 7
The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms: How One Man Scorched the Twentieth Century but Didn't Mean To by Ian Thornton

This epic tale follows the life of Johan Thoms, as told by the son of a man that he told it to years later. Johan was born in the village of Argona, near Sarajevo. He was injured as a child and afterward taken on as a protege by Count Kaunitz, the man whose estate he was injured on. Johan developed a love for chess during his time recovering and showed an ability to converse with those from all backgrounds. He went on to study at the University of Sarajevo and here developed a close relationship with the Count, a strong friendship with the son of the American Ambassador, as well as a deep love affair with a visiting American woman, Lorelei Ribeiro. The Count was able to arrange for his to get  work, and he ends up through a series of circumstances being assigned as the chauffeur for Franz Ferdinand and his wife as they visit the city. Distracted by thoughts of Lorelei, Johan takes a wrong turn, and Franz Ferdinand and his wife are killed. Johan feels the weight of immense guilt and flees blindly, gradually heading west.
It is Johan's deep belief that he is responsible for all the destruction of World War I and the subsequent historical deaths that followed. It is this deep belief that drives his life and separates him from his love.
Johan finds a travelling companion in a young boy, Cicero, that he befriends in a hospital and the two of them travel on to Italy, and then further, staying for a long time in a small seaside village in Portugal and starting a chess club for youngsters called the Young Hooligans. Later their travels take them to Cadiz, and then to England, and eventually back to Argona.
Throughout the story, Johan finds himself looked after kindly by nurses many times and he sees them as angels in his life.
This story is complex and often sad, but also moving and startling at times. The writing is wonderful. Here is an example from when young Johan tells his father that he has determined that he is an atheist and his father describes his view of religion. "It's like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn't there, but still finding the thing."
Well worth reading.

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