I am a big fan of WFB. I own every single one of his books. I own his siblings books, I own his son’s books. I even own a privately published book about his father. WFB was a big part of my introduction to conservatism.
So as you can see it is sometimes hard for me to be objective about Mr. Buckley. Even with my little obsession, however, I can admit that Buckley is not one of the greatest novelists of our time. But what is interesting is to watch as his style and strategy change over time. WFB started writing fiction with a series of spy novels. His blackford Oakes series are a mix of James Bond style espionage, historical fiction, and Buckley’s own unique views. Again, while they are not Tolstoy or Hemingway, they are fun and enjoyable reads. After Blackford Oakes, Buckley begin to work with historical fiction in a more serious way tackling the personalities of Joe McCarthy, James Angleton, and even Elvis Presley. These books were interesting and enjoyable because they provided not just a good story but also insight into the lives of historical figures. At his best (like Redhunter) Buckley brought the characters to life and you felt you understood them better after reading the book.
Which is what brings us to Nuremberg. The book approaches the Nuremburg trial through the eyes of a young German-American GI Sebastian Reinhard. Sebastian leaves turbulent inter-war Germany to live in America, the home of his maternal grandmother. Growing up in Arizona he soon sees America as his home and enlists in the army as WWII winds down. Because of his language skills he is sent to do interpreter-interrogation work at the Nuremberg trial. Sebastian’s complicated lineage and his unique experiences allow Buckley to explore issues of loyalty, patriotism, morality, and anti-Semitism as Sebastian interacts with Nazi war criminals, local German’s and his own relatives. Buckley paints the characters and story line with interconnected vignettes. The story line does not lead in a straight line from one point to another, there are plot twists scattered throughout. Rather Buckley seems concerned with allowing the reader to “feel” the lives of the characters. To walk in their shoes, to think like they think, to wrestle with the issues they must have wrestled with in order to make sense of their lives and times. In this way, it is similar to the way he had led James Angleton. Spytime was not a espionage thriller or a mystery; it was a extended character sketch. Nuremberg is the same type of work. Buckley explores and examines people, places, and ideas through his characters.
I think this is likely what Buckley enjoys about writing these type of books. The skill necessary to describe the characters and events of history – trying to make the people real. Buckley wants us to look back on these events and see that there were real people involved with complex lives, emotions, and questions. In Nuremberg he wants you to wrestle with the difficult ideas and the difficult moral choices. He wants you to ask yourself what would I do?
I enjoyed reading Nuremburg as I enjoy reading all of WFB’s works. If you enjoy interesting characters in a fascinating historical setting I think you will enjoy it as well.