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Behind the Book: The Ends of the Earth by Robert Goddard

by Robert Goddard

The clue is in the title. With the third volume of the Wide World trilogy, we arrive at the end of the long, dangerous and sometimes deadly search by James Maxted, known as Max, for the truth behind his father’s death in Paris during the post-war peace conference of 1919.

All the questions will finally be answered, all the mysteries unravelled, all the secrets laid bare. Who will be left standing when we reach that point, however, remains to be seen.

I have known from the outset where this story was heading, but it’s taken the twists and turns of the two previous volumes in the trilogy, The Ways of the World and The Corners of the Globe, to lead the characters and the readers to the point where we’ve now arrived: Japan, Max’s birthplace, repository of the elusive truth and the battleground on which that truth will be contested.

Setting and plotting a novel set in Japan in 1919 is a little more challenging than doing so in Europe. Paris, where much of the first two books was set, has changed a good deal less than most cities over the past century. Tokyo, on the other hand, has been utterly transformed several times, by earthquake, fire, wartime bombing and rampant modernization. Visualizing how the city and other locations would have looked and seemed in 1919 required me to delve beneath the surface and let Japan work on my imagination. It was ultimately, like so much in Japan, a magical experience.

But there is nothing magical about the resolution of this story. Its conclusion is founded in the struggle for power and wealth between men and women of the period and in the strange, enduring effects of individual acts and decisions. In The Ends of the Earth – at the ends of the Earth – they are what ultimately count.And because this story is set in the real world and among real people, it cannot come to any kind of full and final stop. For those who dwell in the past, there is always the future. Their time has come.

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