Upon A Wheel of Fire is an attempt to give a personal dimension to the works of A.J.P Taylor and J. Wheeler-Bennett, and to question the popular black and white verdict on the history of Germany.
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Upon A Wheel of Fire is a major literary novel set against the end of the First World War, the inter-war years, and the start of the Second World War. The narrative is the life of Yves Beauchamp, told as he lies dying in a Vancouver hospice. From his education at a brutal British public school, the story moves to his battle experiences in France as a junior officer in 1917, to his involvement in the post-war resurgence of Germany, and his debauched tour through the ruins of Europe in 1946. Yves' auditor is a troubled architect, a volunteer at the hospice, preoccupied by marital turmoil, but increasingly overwhelmed by the old man's narrative. Yves' story centers on his relationship with a German officer, Werner Schacht, whom he meets during the last days of the war in 1918, then again in Paris during the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Their difficult friendship, and Yves' romance with a German speaking French nurse from Alsace, bring out the lethal flaw at the heart of the Treaty. As the peace unravels, Werner and Yves make an attempt to stay the tyranny of events, ending in disaster for them both. The story includes descriptions of the Battle of Cambrai of 1917, the politics of the Treaty, the failed coup against National Socialism in 1938, and the almost successful plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944. The hideous fate of Werner Schacht as one of the plotters captured after the failed attempt is the climax of the book, based on a reel of film made to satisfy Hitler's revenge, but later lost in the chaos as the War ended. A description of the shocking celluloid images has never before been attempted, here recreated by Grieve from German archives and witness statements.