WOW! What an extraordinary story!! I was perplexed to find almost nothing on Jerry Yulsman and Wikipedia did not
even have a page for this book. As for the reviews, it seemed people either loved it or hated it. I loved it, and it fits right in with my philosophy of
the physical world, being our ability to time travel and navigate timelines. The first paragraph of the blurb on the back cover of this Dover edition says,
"A dying woman, given a second chance to relive her life, travels back in time. Her goal: the execution of an obscure Viennese artist named Adolf Hitler.
Two generations later, the assassin's granddaughter is mystified to discover a book relating the history of World War II—the chronicle of a conflict that
never took place."
That was certainly enough to pique my interest in the book, but it is only a smidgeon of the story. And execution is not the right word—she assassinates him. She is then executed. And that was only one of her goals to go back in time.
The events that take place over eight decades and two timelines are very tantalizingly supplied in small doses over the course of the entire book, so therefore, I really hesitate to tell too much in this review, lest I spoil any of the surprises. Perhaps surprises isn't the right word, because we pretty much know what happened, but it is the details we don't know, and the urgency to know those details sends us reading in overdrive. Needless to say, this is one of those books you can't put down. Plus, lots of other events are woven into the plot, along with the mystery and sci-fi aspect. It is a romance, filled with humor, and definitely not for the kiddies, because not only prostitution is involved, but child prostitution, which many would find offensive. Of course, in real life, I find anything concerning sex and children criminal and heinous, but in fiction, I am not usually offended. If I was, my reading list would dwindle greatly. And surprisingly enough, there is very little here about Jewish people, which I thought would play a big part. But since Hitler was assassinated and WWII did not take place, neither did the holocaust.
And so, I will share what I can without giving too much away. Each chapter is a date, ranging from 1910 to 1984, and they jump back and forth. It really is not as confusing as it sounds, because the story is laid out so well, but with each tiny bit of information we are given, more questions arise.
We begin in Vienna, 1913, where a poor struggling artist rooms in a cubicle with a Jewish man in the next one who has closed the window. The artist begins banging on the partition until he opens it again. In the next chapter, we meet a beautiful woman who is stalking the artist. She loses him, then wonders if she can really do it, and decides she can. She finds him in a restaurant where she shoots him in the open in cold blood, not even trying to flee. She has come back in time to save the only four people she had really loved, and her work is done. But has she saved them all? We find out only at the very end of the book. And one other point: each, or most chapters are preceded by a news item that reflects the alternative reality in which the "present" segments of the story take place.
We then switch gears to 1983, where the newly divorced Lesley Bauman leaves the Packard, and everything except two pieces of luggage to her ex in L.A.. For $23.80, she boards a magnitrain, that will take her back to New York in one hour and three minutes at 4,200 mph. OK, so there is a huge difference in the technology in this reality!! She arrives at her mother's house. Lena Morning has been divorced for years and Lesley barely knows her father, Harry Morning, who is British. He has supplied her with a very large check all her life, but little else. After her mother makes some mysterious comments about her grandmother, Elleander Morning, Lesley decides she wants to go to England and meet the other half of her family. She contacts her father, and he is thrilled. She takes a ship across the Atlantic—the historic Normandie, and is met by her father's lawyer, Fred Hayworth, a cute but gay guy, who, after cordial greetings, breaks the news that her father has just died of a massive heart attack.
And so now Lesley is truly on her own, in a huge mansion, with two crying, pathetic servants. Harry was well-loved. But it is at the funeral that her interest in her mysterious grandmother really begins. She meets two very old ladies—twins, in fact named Fawn and Clara Fowler, and they supply Lesley with some shocking information, the first being that the mansion where she is now staying was once an, uh, establishment. a very high-class one, the best in England, or perhaps the world. And yes, Elleander was a madam. And yes, the still attractive very old ladies were two of her best "employees," and her best friends. They are the only people now alive that knew Elleander.
The reading of the will gives Lesley another shock. She is now an extremely wealthy woman, and though she just wants to get out of the mansion on Highcastle Road, she delays that and that is a good choice. (She never does.) But, aside from the money and property, there is a handwritten letter from her father which speaks of his childhood and the very little he remembers of his mother. She assassinated Hitler when he was a toddler, and never returned to England. As for his father, he never knew his identity. However, he guides Lesley to two publications which remained an enigma to him his entire life. One is The Intimate Diary of a London Gentleman, published in 1910, and the other is a Time-Life History of the Second World War, a two volume set published in 1970, which, along with the text, contains over three hundred photos of a war that never happened!
She reads the diary, then decides to pursue that one first, since the only name of the author given is "B." She contacts Turtle Press in Glasgow, a raunchy little company that publishes raunchy books, and finds that the author's name was Bertram Trasker. It turns out, he was her grandfather.
But now, an even more perplexing task is to make sense out of the Time-Life volumes. Of course, in my day, Time-Life was huge. It has gone through many transformations and ownerships, but it is still around. It was a combination of two publications, Time magazine, which is still in publication, and Life magazine, which is not, but I surely remember that one, and I still own many special copies, one in particular about DNA, which inspired my sixth grade science project, where I placed seventh in the district. OK, so Yulsman chose a publication for his novel that would certainly add credibility to his story. This is important, as Lesley and Freddy who are becoming fast friends, now enlist more and more people to disentangle the mystery. And as the reader, of course, many questions pop up, such as, how these two publications managed to survive into the alternative reality. Most of them are answered, in bits and trickles throughout the story, leaving only a few threads dangling, their solutions left to the imagination of the reader.
As I said, I will not share too much about the contents of this novel because that would spoil the fun, and it IS fun. However, there is one more aspect of it I will mention. And that is the fact that H.G. Wells, yes, the H.G. Wells is a major character. He was, in the story, a close friend to both Elleander and Bertram—in fact he introduced them.
I am a HUGE fan of Wells. Along with his most famous sci-fi novels, he had a great interest in time travel, alternative realities, futuristic worlds, and was an expert on war. He also was a genius, an eccentric, and a scientist with an extraordinary imagination and a great sense of humor. You can read more about him on Wikipedia, and read my numerous book reviews on his Index Page.
I have mixed feelings about using real people as characters. In the present, if the people are still alive, I find it not always effective. I once began a book that used Trump as a character. Eeew, yuk. The book was closed and put into the Goodwill bag. However, in this novel, I cannot imagine a better choice of historic characters, because Wells' beliefs tie right in with the theme of the story. It adds to the believability and is very effective. And I DO believe in alternative realities and timelines—absolutely.
And so, having said all this, I will say no more, except that this novel REALLY should be read. It is fascinating!!
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