Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A bildungsroman (coming-of-age story)
World's End, by Upton Sinclair
Last year I picked up Sinclair's A World to Win, not realizing it was number 7 in a series about a secret agent. This year I backed up to the first book, which covers Lanny Budd's life from ages 13 to 20. Sinclair clearly knew where he was going with this series, as the seeds are already planted for the man Lanny will become.
Lanny grows up with his American socialite mother on the French Riviera, with occasional visits from his father, a wealthy American arms manufacturer. Lanny's uncle is a radical who takes him to see how impoverished people live, which forces the youth to rethink his view of the world. (Lanny, like Sinclair, will become a committed socialist.)
As a teen, Lanny has two close friends, Rick (British) and Kurt (German). When World War 1 breaks out, both Rick and Kurt serve in their country's armies. Living in France, Lanny sees the devastation wrought on the country, and understands his French stepfather's desire to volunteer for the army. At the same time, Lanny believes Kurt is a good person, and carries on an illicit correspondence with him.
A major piece of the story is the conference where the terms of the peace treaty were hammered out. Lanny, now nineteen or twenty, works as a secretary for one of the participants, and gets a close-up view of the power struggles and colonialism among the victor countries; none of the participants come off as the "good guys."
There are other hints of where the later books will take Lanny. His stepfather is an artist; Lanny will someday be an art dealer. When one of his friends is in danger, Lanny has a vision of him; Lanny will have a lifelong fascination with spiritualism, though always with a touch of skepticism. And his involvement with socialists drops Lanny into a dangerous situation. Lanny has trouble lying his way out it, and ironically thinks that he could never be a successful spy. Which, of course, he will.
Sinclair's writing style has a modern, unpretentious feel, and is always an easy read. While this book gives the setup for the series, it's also a satisfying read as a standalone. which is a good thing, because the books in this series run to 800-1000 pages, so who knows when I'll get to the next one.