The Two-Headed Eagle: A Novel

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9780312147518: The Two-Headed Eagle: A Novel

In the summer of 1916, Otto Prohaska pilots a rickety biplane belonging to the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Flying Service over Europe's battlefields and tries to survive history in the making.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

The third entry in an engagingly episodic, seriocomic series that allows Ottokar Prohaska (The Emperor's Coloured Coat, 1995; A Sailor of Austria, 1994) to recall his antic WW I adventures in the service of the Austro-Hungarian Empire while a centenarian resident of a Welsh nursing home. It's mid-1916, and the Czech-born Otto (a career officer who has won the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Theresa for his exploits as a U-boat captain) is suddenly seconded to the Flying Corps in the wake of charges he mistakenly sank a German minelayer. The errant hero's squadron is based near the Italian front high in the Alps, a decidedly hostile environment for the rattletrap flying machines employed by both the Allies and the Central Powers during the Great War. Despite the primitive nature of their weaponry, Otto and his mates carry out some terrifying missions, including a two- plane raid on Venice, albeit at no small cost in blood and equipment. When not engaged in mortal combat with Italian fliers, targeting siege guns for bombardment, or fighting the routinely harsh elements, Otto's squadron does battle with its insanely rigid commanders, who place greater value on outmoded traditions and caste systems than on their men's lives. Eventually transferred back to the Navy's air arm, Otto helps send a French sub to the bottom of the Adriatic and finds himself in Vienna toward year's- end to witness the first signs of the fall of the House of Habsburg (the two-headed eagle of the title). Otto is then posted back to the seagoing fleet, ready for further pre-Armistice action. Another fine outing for Otto Prohaska, a protagonist with a keen eye for the ethnic politics, repressive instincts, and other suicidal faults of the failing dynasts he served as a hired gun. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

During an event-packed six months in 1916, amid furious fighting on the Eastern front, young Lieutenant Ottokar Prohaska of the Austro-Hungarian navy (last seen in Biggins's The Emperor's Colored Coat) once again finds himself aloft in fragile aircraft, this time as an observer-bomber-navigator. The actual flying is done by Feldpilot-Zugsfuhrer Zoltan Toth, an enlisted man built low to the ground, who becomes Otto's steadfast comrade through one peril after another. Who but Otto would think of hurling a heavy and useless wireless transmitter through the balloon of an enemy airship? Who but Zoltan could fly a biplane whose engine and radiator completely block his view, forcing him to lean out his window like the engineer of a train? The duo ricochet from battle to battle in a war where mustard gas is a standard weapon and the worst opposition comes from a combatant's own leaders, who value statistics over victories. Though the narrative contains vivid, sensual descriptions of the sights and smells of the front line and the trenches, the paucity of dialogue and character development makes it, like its predecessor, more a nonfiction chronicle than a novel. Otto seems merely a peg on which to hang the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the birth of military aviation. Perhaps someday Biggins, who ably conveys the horror and despair of the period, will write the history book simmering within these pages.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Biggins, John
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