One-Minute Book Reviews

December 7, 2007

Remembering Pearl Harbor in Books, Movies and Music

The day that Franklin D. Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy” also lives in libraries, bookstores and on the Web

By Janice Harayda

The English language goes down with the USS Arizona in Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen’s Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th (St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $25.95), a novel that offers a Japanese view of (and an alternate ending to) the attack that brought the U.S. into World War II. So if you’re interested in this one, you may want to head for the library or wait for the paperback due out on April 15.

I haven’t read the classic Pearl Harbor novel, James Jones’s From Here to Eternity, but it’s been praised by tough critics, including Joan Didion (and I enjoyed Frank Sinatra’a Academy Award-winning performance in the movie version, which also won the Oscar for “Best Picture”). Jones saw the attack on Pearl Harbor while serving as an infantryman in Hawaii and drew on his war experiences in the book.

The most memorable quote I’ve read about the attack came from Winston Churchill, who said that after the bombing, he “slept like a baby” for the first time in months because he knew that U.S. had entered the war at last. Alas, I’ve read so many biographies of Churchill that I can’t remember where it appeared. But a related quote appears Winston Churchill: Penguin Lives Series (Penguin, $19.95), a good short life of Britian’s wartime prime minister by John Keegan, the distinguished military historian. Keegan quotes Churchill as saying after Pearl Harbor, “So we had won after all!”

To listen to the Navy Hymn played at the funerals of the sailors who died at Pearl Harbor (and also at that of FDR), click here www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/e/t/eternalf.htm. Put on your headphones if you’re in a library, because you’ll hear the music as soon as you click.

Other links: To read the review of Pearl Harbor posted on this site on July 30, 2007, click here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/30/. You’ll find praise for Gingrich’s novel on the publisher’s site www.thomasdunnebooks.com. You can read about James Jones at www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Jones and about From Here to Eternity at www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_Here_to_Eternity. You can learn about the movie version of Jones’s novel and watch the trailer at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) at www.imdb.com/title/tt0045793/. And there’s more on Keegan’s life of Churchill at http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Theme/ThemePage/0,,634125,00.html

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 11, 2007

A Prayer Said by an Army Chaplain to Soldiers Leaving on a Fateful Mission in Iraq — Veterans’ Day Quote of the Day (Ramon Pena via Martha Raddatz in ‘The Long Road Home’)

On the day known as “Black Sunday,” Iraqi militants ambushed an American platoon escorting an Iraqi sewage truck in the Sadr City section of Baghdad. Convoys sent to rescue the stranded soldiers repeatedly came under attack, and the firefight left eight Americans dead and more than 60 wounded.

Martha Raddatz, an ABC News correspondent, tells the poignant story of that disastrous 2004 battle and its effect on the soldiers’ kin in her recent The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family (Putnam, $24.95). In the opening scene Captain Ramon Pena, an Army chaplain, looks at the body of a 24-year-old soldier who died in the battle, his face covered by his T-shirt and camouflage top, and remembers the prayer he recited to the members of a rescue convoy an hour before:

“Lord, protect us. Give us the angels you have promised and bring peace to these soldiers as they go out. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Comment by Janice Harayda:

Many of the most moving scenes in military history or fiction involve the words said to soldiers who may soon die in battle. Some of the finest of these include King Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”) and Cornelius Ryan’s account in The Longest Day of the invasion of Normandy, when loudspeakers on British ships broadcast over and over to men going ashore: “Remember Dunkirk! Remember Coventry! God bless you all.” What other messages deserve to be included in this category?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 8, 2007

Under the Neapolitan Sun — A Repressed British Soldier Has a Sensual Awakening in Anthony Capella’s World War II Novel, ‘The Wedding Officer’

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:55 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When love seasons the pasta sauce

The Wedding Officer. By Anthony Capella. Bantam, 423 pp., $22.

By Janice Harayda

The Wedding Officer gives unexpected life to a theme that English novelists have developed so often it borders on a cliche — that of the repressed Brit who has a sensual awakening in Italy. This love story isn’t on par with E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View and Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April. But it is popular fiction of a high order, or easy but intelligent reading that is far above novels such as Newt Gingrich’s Pearl Harbor.

Captain James Gould arrives in Naples in 1944 with the thankless assignment of discouraging marriages between British soldiers and their distracting Italian girlfriends. His emotions collide with his duties when Livia Pertini becomes the cook for the Allied officers and prepares sumptuous pasta dishes followed by deserts such as baked pears with honey and rosemary. As James’s passions awaken, Mount Vesuvius emits ominous plumes of smoke, the bloodbath at Anzio approaches, and Naples resembles an open-air brothel overrun by prostitutes who sleep with soldiers to pay for their syphilis treatments.

As he tells this briskly paced story, Anthony Capella deftly balances history, gastronomy and the dilemma of a young intelligence officer at odds with more than the Axis powers and the local gangsters. And that mix helps to make The Wedding Officer the rare popular love story that may appeal equally to men and women. Anybody who doubts it needs only to read the first line of this novel and see if she — or he — can resist reading more: “The day Livia Pertini fell in love for the first time was the day the beauty contest was won by her favorite cow, Pupetta.”

Best and worst lines: This post will be updated, possibly by the end of the day, with these lines and more information on Capella’s work. I’m still in computer purgatory.

Published: May 2007 www.theweddingofficer.com and www.bantamdell.com

Furthermore: For information on the movie versions of The Enchanted April and A Room With a View, go to the Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com and search for their titles. Von Arnim was born in Australia and moved to England at a young age.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 13, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Marcus Luttrell’s ‘Lone Survivor’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
Lone Survivor
The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10

By Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

In 2005 Marcus Luttrell set out with three other U.S. Navy SEALs to capture an al Qaeda leader hiding on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Luttrell and his unit soon became engaged in a fierce firefight with Taliban soldiers that he alone survived. He tells his story in his memoir, Lone Survivor, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.

Questions for Readers

1. Military books don’t usually become immediate bestsellers unless they have famous authors, such as Private Jessica Lynch or General Colin Powell. Lone Survivor reached the No. 1 spot on the New York Times list quickly even though Marcus Luttrell was little-known. Why do you think accounts for this? What drew you to the book? What do you think attracted others to it?

2. Luttrell is the son of Texas horse ranchers and had something of a cowboy childhood. For example, his father taught him to shoot a .22-caliber rifle at the age of seven. [Page 51] Is Lone Survivor a kind of cowboy story? Why or why not?

3. At times Luttrell rails against what he calls “the liberal media.” But you might wonder whether he means “the liberal media” as opposed to “the conservative media” or “the media in general, which tend to be liberal.” What do you think he meant? Does it matter to his story?

4. Luttrell says that on an earlier assignment in Iraq, he realized that some people thought “we who put our lives on the line for our nation at the behest of our government should be charged with murder for shooting our enemy.” They included “the liberal media, which knows nothing of combat, nothing of our training, and nothing of the mortal dangers we face out there on the front line.” [Page 37] Was this a fair comment when so many reporters are embedded with troops? Why or why not?

5. Luttrell also lashes out against provisions of the Geneva Conventions that prevent civilians from becoming targets of attacks. He argues that these are unfair in wars such the one SEALs were fighting in Afghanistan, because soldiers often disguise themselves as civilians. [Page 367 and elsewhere] How well does Luttrell make his case against some provisions of the Conventions?

6. Nations clearly have several options if some provisions of the Geneva Conventions don’t work in wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq: 1) Obey all the provisions, even those put soldiers’ lives at risk; 2) Ignore provisions that would endanger soldiers (even if this would anger other countries); 3) Don’t get involved in wars that would require soldiers to make such choices. Luttrell seems to favor a variation on the second option: Either repeal some provisions or allow soldiers to disregard them. Which option makes most sense to you?

7. Some of America’s greatest books involve sole survivors of disasters. These include Moby-Dick. (Its epilogue includes a line from the Book of Job: “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”) What accounts for the appeal of these survival narratives? Do Americans tend to see themselves as “alone” in some fundamental way and identify with their characters? Or is something else at work?

8. In an interview with the New York Times, Luttrell said his main goal in writing Lone Survivor was to tell the story of the SEALs who did not survive. ”Now I think the American public knows who they are, and now they are forever immortalized,” he said. ”Their memory will never die out, and that’s what I wanted.” [“He Lived to Tell the Tale (And Write a Best Seller), by Motoko Rich, in the New York Times, Aug 9, 2007, page E1.] Did he achieve his goal? Do you agree that his friends’ memory “will never die”?

9. Many studies have shown that schoolchildren today have trouble identifying major battles of the Civil War or World War II, let alone their winners, losers, and individual participants. In that context, do you think that people will remember Operation Redwing years from now? Or will they forget it after other military memoirs appear? Why or why not? What does your answer say to you about our country?

10. Luttrell says early in his book, “I am not a political person.” [Page 39] After reading Lone Survivor, do you agree? Why or why not?

Vital statistics:

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. By Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. Little Brown, 249 pp., $24.99. First American edition: June 2007.

Links: You can read an excerpt and listen to a podcast at www.hachettebookgroupusa.com. You can learn about other military books by Patrick Robinson at www.patrickrobinson.com.

Your book group may also want to read:

Return With Honor (Doubleday, 1995). By Captian Scott O’Grady with Jeff Coplon. This gripping bestseller tells the true story of a U.S. Air Force caption who was shot down while enforcing a NATO no-fly zone over Bosnia in 1995 and eluded capture for six days until rescued by Marines. Return With Honor lacks the angry political rhetoric of Lone Survivor, and for that reason, some people may prefer it to Luttrell’s book.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. She does not accept free books from editors, publishers or agents, and all or her reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark One-Minute Book Reviews or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

:

August 2, 2007

Michael Shaara’s Civil War Novel, ‘The Killer Angels’

At Gettysburg with Robert E. Lee and Joshua Chamberlain

Newt Gingrich often produces unintended comedy when he tries to show the thoughts of military leaders in his new Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th (St. Martin’s, $25.95). Michael Shaara takes on a similar task with much better results in his 1974 Civil War novel, The Killer Angels (Ballantine, $7.99, paperback), which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It’s risky to try to give a fresh account of someone as familiar as Robert E. Lee: What’s there to say that we don’t know?

But Shaara pulls it off in this recreation of the Battle of Gettysburg, as refracted through the lives of Lee and others, including the Union’s Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Shaara avoids overstuffing his story with irrelevant period details — the besetting sin of so many historical novels — and offers a brisk account of mental as well as physical struggle. The Killer Angels isn’t in a class with such great war novels as All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms. But it is an example of military fiction done with intelligence and without the macho posturing that tends to infect the form. Jeff Shaara has attempted to build on his father’s legacy, and while I’ve read only one of his novels, it didn’t come close to this.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 30, 2007

The English Language Goes Down With the USS Arizona in Newt Gingrich’s ‘Pearl Harbor’

Characters “chuckle” all the way to disaster in an alternate version of history

Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th. By Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. Contributing Editor: Albert S. Hanser. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, 366 pp., $25.95.

By Janice Harayda

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich writes fiction about as well as Danielle Steel could draft legislation. But I wouldn’t be too hard on his alternate version of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, changed by the presence of one man who decides to take part at the last minute.

It’s true that if people stereotyped men’s novels as they do women’s, critics might call this book “dick lit” without the sex. But Pearl Harbor isn’t as bad as, say, Tom Clancy’s novels. For one thing, it moves faster. And if Gingrich and co-author William Forstchen give you plenty of descriptions of weapons and strategy, you’re never drowning in an alphabet-soup of acronyms as in Clancy’s lumbering behemoths.

Pearl Harbor also provides many moments of unintended comedy. Some of these occur when the novel takes us inside the minds of world leaders. At the Atlantic Conference, Winston Churchill looks gravely at Franklin D. Roosevelt and says, “Mr. President, I feel that despite all our problems in Russia, North Africa, and the Atlantic, I also have to remind you that we could face a very nasty situation in the Pacific.”

William Manchester was never like this, and neither was his English. Lynne Truss might have written Eats, Shoots and Leaves for Gingrich and Forstchen, who pile on run-on sentences and other forms of mangled grammar. “No time to replace the wires, splice, and tape,” they write after an American plane takes a hit at Hickam Field, leaving you wondering whether they intended “splice” and “tape” as verbs or nouns.

Even so, Pearl Harbor shows that the Americans, British, and Japanese had more in common than you might imagine. One is they all “chuckled” a lot when faced with world-shattering events. Gingrich and Forstchen and tell us Churchill “chuckled” as the German bombs rattled his bunker. Admiral Yamamoto “chuckled” over naiveté of the U.S. and “chuckled derisively” when he thought of its diplomats. And Commander James Watson of the U.S. Navy, the closest the book has to a hero, “chuckled” when asked by a British correspondent how many aircraft carriers were near Pearl Harbor. “You know I can’t tell you that.”

Gingrich and Forstchen say that this novels is the first in a series that will show how World War II might have turned out if the events of Pearl Harbor had taken place. On the evidence of this book, some characters will be chuckling all the way to V-J Day.

Best line: Many details of wartime life would be more memorable if they didn’t appear in grammatical train wrecks. The authors write of No. 10 Downing Street during the Blitz: “The windows, of course were all cross-hatched with tape, inside, blackout curtains darkened the room.” It’s interesting that air-raid precautions against air-raids were so primitive even in the British prime minister’s residence. But that fact appears in the kind of run-on sentence known as a comma splice (in which two independent clauses are joined with a comma instead of a conjunction, such as an “and” before “inside”). The sentence is also missing a comma after “course.”

Worst line (tie): No. 1: “James nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked at bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversation to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.” No. 2: “To withdraw backward was impossible.” So withdrawing forward was still an option?

Editor: Pete Wolverton

Published: May 2007 www.newt.org/pacificwarseries/

Conflict alert: A different imprint of St. Martin’s published my first novel. I almost never review books by my publishers but have made an exception in this case because Gingrich is talking about running for president in 2008. And this novel has had fewer reviews than you might expect for someone who may have his eye on the White House.

For more on the alarming number of characters in Pearl Harbor who “chuckled” on the way to diaster, see the Newt Gingrich Chuckle Meter, posted earlier today on One-Minute Book Reviews www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/30/.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

Janice Harayda is has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

May 27, 2007

Military Obituaries Worthy of a Memorial Day Salute

Filed under: Biography,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:28 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

A collection celebrates men and women who wore their uniforms with courage and eccentricity

By Janice Harayda

Digby Tatham-Warter led a bayonet charge during the Battle of Arnhem sporting a bowler hat and an umbrella. Nell Allgrove and other captured Australian nurses survived on two ounces of rice a day in Japanese camps in Sumatra. Charles Fraser-Smith sent golf balls with compasses inside and other gadgets to British prisoners in Germany, an effort so successful that he became the model for “Q” in the James Bond books.

The stories of these and other extraordinary men and women appear in The Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventures (Macmillan, 1993), edited by Hugh Massingberd, the second volume in a series from the British newspaper. Most of the subjects of this book were British or Commonwealth soldiers, sailors, aviators, spies, or nurses, though some never wore a uniform. And their stories show why military-obituary writers at the Telegraph are seen as five-star generals of a vanishing art. Written with verve and candor, the pieces in this book reflect a deep sympathy for both the courage and the eccentricities of their subjects. Few American newspapers would have the wit to begin an obituary like this: “Major General Micky Whistler, who has died aged 83, had a career of remarkable variety in which his cheerful disrespect for pompous and hidebound senior officers brought numerous reprimands, but did much to improve the efficiency and morale of his men.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

« Previous Page

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 381 other followers

%d bloggers like this: