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01 February 2015

Herman Wouk: War and Remembrance

Best fictional novel about WWII from an American perspective
I revisited this book recently and despite having read it before I was immediately totally absorbed by this history of America's involvement in  WWII from an American perspective seen through the eyes of a fictional American family. This book and its predecessor WINDS OF WAR are IMHO about the best fictional histories of WWII - they are both epics in their own right. Both books took years to write and involved amazing research to ensure their authenticity.

Herman Wouk is a born storyteller who covers the main aspects of America's wartime history through the lives of a single fictional American family who are drawn into the very centre of almost every aspect of the war and the buildup to war, both in Europe and in the Pacific. Captain Victor ("Pug") Henry is an intelligent, ambitious but not exceedingly charismatic, naval officer whose earlier career as Naval Attache in Berlin brings him into close contact with President Roosevelt as well as many of the main players and leaders in the conflict including Hitler, Goering, Churchill and Stalin. His personal ambition is to get command of a battleship, but this happens at the time of Pearl Harbour when his ship is sunk. Despite this he does get a command and makes his mark in the war.

Henry's family is also inextricably entwined with the maelstrom. Byron is a submariner who is married to Natalie, an American Jewish girl who is trapped in Italy trying to get her Jewish uncle back to the US. Warren is an aviator flying torpedo bombers from an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. Madeleine eventually marries a naval scientist who is posted to  Los Alamos.

While Pug fights in the Pacific War he also gets involved with in Europe and Russia with Lend-Lease, and in making sure that sufficient landing craft are built for the Normandy landings (meeting Eisenhower in the process). Throughout the book he keeps in touch with Pamela Tudsbury, the daughter of famous English broadcaster Alistair Tudsbury. Their friendship develops as his marriage hits the rocks.

This is not a short book but it was so compelling that the 1,400 pages disappeared in record time. I cannot recommend it (and its predecessor) too highly as one of the most remarkable and authentic fictional books about WWII.

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