When three American performers travel to Paris in the summer of 1914, they become caught in the passions and politics of a nation on the brink of war. Separated by events, they fall in with factions for and against the conflict, and move ever deeper into a mysterious underground world of political intrigues. Only one man, a statesman and journalist, has the courage to stand up to the corrupt French government and keep the country neutral. When a mad French warmonger plots to kill him, the three Americans-the brooding banjo ...
When three American performers travel to Paris in the summer of 1914, they become caught in the passions and politics of a nation on the brink of war. Separated by events, they fall in with factions for and against the conflict, and move ever deeper into a mysterious underground world of political intrigues. Only one man, a statesman and journalist, has the courage to stand up to the corrupt French government and keep the country neutral. When a mad French warmonger plots to kill him, the three Americans-the brooding banjo player Gus, his secretive partner Jack, and the lovestruck singer Kera-represent the only chance to save him from assassination. Based on true events surrounding the genesis of World War I, Curtain Calls captures the turmoil of the times that changed the course of modern history, in a story filled with the lust for power, betrayal, friendship, and love. The world of 1914 Paris comes alive, as the story takes readers into raucous cabarets filled with the city's most memorable and flamboyant characters. Banjo player Gus Amato and his partner, guitarist Jack Sullivan, known as the Ballo Brothers, are touring in Europe. Kera McGill, a young singer making her first trip overseas, joins them. Kera shows romantic interest in Gus, even though he is almost twice her age. But the brooding musician is more concerned about the threat of conflict, their dwindling finances, and Jack's frequent disappearances after the shows. France is divided over entering the war. The statesman-the historical figure Jean Jaures-leads an effort to stop it, as he did successfully in 1912. The three performers become separated, and each is absorbed into the factions at odds over the coming conflict, their perspectives woven into the events of the times. Gus loses everything when the theater closes and their agent abandons them, and winds up playing for pennies in a seedy cabaret that serves as a nexus for the anti-war effort. His partner, Jack, who kept his gay lifestyle a secret until the tour, becomes the sexual prisoner of the psychopath Raoul, who craves the glory of war. Kera is seduced by a member of Jaures's inner circle, and becomes part of their efforts to keep France neutral. Amid his despair, Gus begins to create a new life among the bar staff and patrons, including a budding romance with the cabaret's uninhibited waitress, Aimee. As he learns of life in this strange place, Gus also considers his long relationship with Jack, and begins to realize that rather than a secret or a sickness, it was his own blindness to his friend's true nature that afflicted him. Kera accompanies her lover, Maurice Bertre, and others to Brussels as they support Jaures's efforts to stop the war. She meets Jaures and his protege, Jean Longuet. Jaures makes an impassioned speech, but his political rivals refuse to back his efforts, bringing war closer. Sick and injured from Raoul's mistreatment, Jack begins to hallucinate, recalling his version of the partnership, and how he kept his desire for Gus a secret. When Jack tries to trick Raoul into letting him go, he unwittingly convinces the madman to assassinate Jaures. Raoul brutally injures Jack during an escape attempt, and leaves him to track the statesman. Hopeless, Jack slits his wrist to finish the job. Gus takes his banjo outside to ponder the changes in his life. He is caught in a rumble between the political factions. Raoul is there, and in the fray steals Gus's banjo. His new friends at the cabaret offer to help, and they find information that leads him to Raoul's flat. Gus locates his dying partner, who begs him to stop Raoul, and Gus must choose between his friend and saving the great man. His decision has the potential to alter the course of history.
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