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  • An historical epic from a personal perspective

    While major historical events unfold, "ordinary" people keep going about their lives, experiencing joys, hardships, fateful meetings and making what will become life-changing decisions. That is the basis for Lenny Bartulin's new US release, Fortune. The novel is a sweeping historical epic, comprised of several intertwined narrative threads told from uniquely personal perspectives. As Napoleon marches into Berlin in October 1806, we see the event through the eyes of several characters. Johannes Meyer, aged eighteen, abandons the crowd watching the Grande Armée, to enjoy a brief tryst with a coffee house waitress. They're observed in flagrante delicto through a window by two passers-by, Marie-Henri Beyle, years prior to finding his fame as the philosopher / writer Stendhal, and seventeen-year-old Elizabeth von Hoffman. Johannes and Elizabeth briefly lock eyes, the moment passes and they move in separate directions towards their far-flung destinies. Later that evening, Prussian Heinrich Krüger is heckled as he philosophises on the cyclical nature of time, life, knowledge and love. On the other side of Berlin, specimen collector Claus von Rolt receives an American, Wesley Lewis Jr. and his Surinamese companion, Mr. Hendrik, who are trying to dispose of a barrel of rare but rapidly deteriorating live electric eels on behalf of their employer, plantation owner Captain van der Velde. After an altercation with the three men, Johannes finds himself forcibly conscripted to the Grande Armée as a drummer. After a chance meeting, Kruger decides to accompany Lewis and Hendrik as they set out on their return journey to Paramaribo, Suriname. Meanwhile, Elizabeth forms a romantic attachment to Général de Brigade Michel François Fourés of the Grande Armée, who is temporarily billeted at her elderly aunt's residence, and absconds with him, dreaming of a life of adventure. From there, the characters' paths diverge, occasionally crossing or unwittingly passing by, first through western and northern Europe, then across the Atlantic to northern South America. One character finds himself in remote Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania, Australia), before a twist of fate leads him once again to meet a familiar set of eyes. A brief final episode set in Tasmania and the trenches of World War 1 in Europe brings the story full circle. Given that the above is only a brief overview of the cast of characters and unfolding storyline of Fortune, readers will appreciate that it takes some concentration to keep track of the various personalities and timelines, as the short chapters jump between the different perspectives. That concentration, however, is justly rewarded by a rich and complex reading experience, featuring well-developed characters, engrossing plots and exotic locations. Lenny Bartulin's writing is lyrical and evocative, without ever becoming cumbersome or convoluted. I found myself genuinely engaged in the titular fortunes of the two central characters, Johannes and Elizabeth, as they unfold, buffeted by turns of luck, circumstance and apparently random events. The focus moves seamlessly from seemingly mundane details of day-to-day life to occasional glimpses of famous figures and notable historical events. Bartulin's considerable research into the period(s) in which his book is set is evident throughout. I was particularly delighted to find a cross-over with Adam Courtenay's modern Tasmanian classic, The Ship that Never Was: The Greatest Escape Story Of Australian Colonial History, of which I am very fond. It has taken me some time to mull over this book before writing my review, such was the effect it had on me. I recommend it highly to all readers who enjoy historical epic, swashbuckling adventures and quality character-driven sagas. My thanks to the author, fellow Tasmanian Lenny Bartulin, publisher Skyhorse Publishing (Arcade Publishing) and Netgalley, for the opportunity to read and review this excellent title.

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