A citizen of the 20th century

Jerusalem Commands is the third novel in Michael Moorcock’s Pyat Quartet. It opens with Pyat, or “Max Peters”, as a star of silent movies in Hollywood, and takes him through gruesome adventures in North Africa. As always there are two stories, the one Pyat tells us, and the truth. The difference is not always one of facts, but of interpretation. What makes Pyat contemptible is not only his actions, but which events he chooses to emphasize, and which to do away with in a few shockingly unemotional sentences.

Pyat always insists on his own brilliance, dignity and innocence in whatever he does, but his words betray him. He is a pitiable human, a grotesquely tragicomic character: Both a Jew and an anti-semite, both a victim and a friend of great tyrants. A believer in chivalry who betrays his friends, a visionary engineer whose inventions never work. He fears Islam as a great enemy of Christianity, but worships Allah when expedient. And he hints at even darker memories than the ones he is willing to share.

Pyat is a glorious hypocrite, but, for all his contradictions, he is a coherent character. He lives. He strides through the 1920s like he owns the place. He is the perfect man to represent the era.

As the novel ends, it is October 1929. We know that Pyat is headed for close friendship with Goering. We also know he’ll end up in a concentration camp, a yellow star on his clothes. The fourth novel will close the story.

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