Monday, February 8, 2021

O Shepherd, Speak! by Upton Sinclair

Lanny Budd from World War to Cold War
Published in 1949, O Shepherd, Speak! is the tenth volume in Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd series. Following on the heals of One Clear Call, this installment covers events of the years 1945 and 1946, chronicling Lanny’s adventures through the end of World War II and the dawn of the Cold War. As the novel opens, the Allies have just about wrapped up the war in Europe and are pushing the Nazis out of many of their formerly occupied territories. Lanny is still serving as an “assimilated colonel” in the U.S. Army, meaning he wears a uniform but plays a noncombatant role. Since he has lived most of his life in Europe and speaks German fluently, he assists the Allied forces in the interrogation of prisoners. Also, as an art expert, he is working as one of the Monuments Men in recovering works of art stolen by the Nazis and returning them to their rightful owners. In addition, because he has previously done some spy work regarding Germany’s nuclear weapons efforts, Lanny lends his expertise to the Alsos Mission, in which Allied intelligence personnel track down and interview German scientists about Nazi military technology, secure their laboratories, and confiscate their records and equipment.

Lanny’s previous experience as a secret agent masquerading as a Nazi sympathizer makes him a valuable asset to the Allied forces in the European Theatre, and once again Lanny crosses paths with his old acquaintance Hermann Göring. The Pacific Theatre, on the other hand, does not get much coverage in the series because there’s really no good reason for Sinclair to send Lanny to Asia. Instead, Sinclair finds many interesting war-related activities to keep Lanny occupied in America and Europe. This book also answers the question of what Lanny will do in peacetime. He inherits a million dollars from his childless godmother, who specifies that he spend the money towards the cause of world peace. (This plot element seems rather an unnecessary gimmick, since Lanny was already rich.) With the help of his wife and a few close friends, Lanny then transforms himself into someone very similar to Upton Sinclair—not exactly a writer, but the founder and editorial head of an indie media mini-empire that broadcasts a socialist perspective on current events. This peacetime enterprise is not as exciting as Lanny’s wartime exploits, but it does help to tie up many of the series’s loose ends. Almost all of the various supporting characters of the series are revisited, and each gets his or her own “Where are they now?” recap.

One recurring plot element that’s largely absent from this episode is paranormal phenomena. Since the beginning, Sinclair has used the series not only to outline his leftist history of the World Wars but also to propound his beliefs in extra sensory perception, communication with
the spirit world, and possibly telepathy. In O Shepherd, Speak!, thankfully, Sinclair keeps the séance shenanigans to a minimum, though he does allow some discourse on the topic towards the end. He can’t resist one incredible message from the dead, but his treatment of the incident feels more sentimental than serious.

Sinclair intended O Shepherd, Speak! to be the conclusion of the Lanny Budd series, as is evident by its feeling of closure. Later, however, he felt the need to write an eleventh novel, The Return of Lanny Budd, published in 1953, which presumably follows Lanny further into the Cold War. O Shepherd, Speak! is not the best novel in the series (that would probably be One Clear Call), but it certainly falls within the top half of the ten books so far. The series as a whole is truly amazing. The sheer number of plot threads that Sinclair juggles and the wealth of historical information he imparts to the reader are awe-inspiring. Were it truly the final volume, O Shepherd, Speak! would have proved a fitting capstone to this monumental achievement.
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