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I am not sure what Jonathan Swift would think of the recent installation of a giant Lemuel Gulliver at the Gulliver’s World amusement part on Usedom Island, Germany, but he would appreciate “A Matter of Time”. Originally published in German as ” Eine Frage der Zeit” by French-Swiss author Alex Capus and available in English through Haus Publishing, it is about eccentric naval officers waging war on Lake Tanganyika during World War I. The well drawn characters make the book.

Anton Ruter is the typical German engineer who has pride in his work. A master shipwright, he is charged by his employer, on behalf of the German Colonial Office, to dismantle and reassemble the ship Gotzen on Lake Tanganyika. He takes along 2 other colleagues, one an older married man with children, and the other a young budding Marxist, all of whom view the short term venture as a means to earn more money. Unfortunately, World War I changes their plans.

Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Basil Spicer-Simson is a member of the British Royal Navy whose disasterous career has left him in charge of patroling the Gambia River in a barely floating steamship. A man whose imagined exploits would make Walter Mitty jealous, he feels a passed over and in need to prove himself. World War I provides him with this opportunity, as he is charged with bringing two small boats to Lake Tanganyika to sink what the Admiralty believes is a barely navigable German boat of near equal size. His wife is steadfastly loyal, despite the fact that he has made them friendless as a couple and she had to live in Africa under conditions less suitable to her standing. World War I was a reprieve for her as she was able to return to London and establish a friendship.

A parody of how we see ourselves, particularly during the transition from peacetime to war time. The book is also subtlely derisive of what governments absurdly impose on its citizens and others. A times it is outright funny. Mr. Spicer-Simson upon learning of his promotion to command the two “vessels”, decides to outfit himself in the style of the commander he has become. Unfortunately, he has no idea of appropriate dress, demanding as Commander that the Admiralty’s outfitter use the wrong colors, and equip he and his men with cutlasses used decades earlier on land. Gilbert and Sullivan would be proud.

This book was a very pleasant surprise and is worth searching for.

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