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 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.

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.

July 2, 2007

Marjorie Hart’s ‘Summer at Tiffany,’ a Lovely Memoir of Manhattan in the Time of ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’

Remembering when Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich shopped at the famous jewelry store

Summer at Tiffany. By Marjorie Hart. Morrow, 258 pp., $14.95.

By Janice Harayda

This lovely memoir is a gardenia on the lapel of this summer’s nonfiction. Marjorie Hart grew up in a Midwestern town so small that she “had no idea what street I’d lived on until years after I had finished college.” But in the summer of 1945 she and a sorority sister at the University of Iowa set out, like Dorothy and Toto, for New York City, determined to find work as salesgirls. Turned down by Lord & Taylor, they talked their way into jobs as the first female pages at Tiffany & Co., which couldn’t hire enough men because of World War II.

That alone might have been a story, but there was more to it. Hart started work at the jewelry store at a shimmering moment. New York was still reeling from the euphoria brought on by the end of the war in Europe and would soon erupt again when the Japanese surrendered. The air was full of Chanel No. 5, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and Walter Winchell’s radio broadcasts. Hart was there for all of it and restores to it some of the romance that has leached through overexposure out of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s great photo “V-J Day Sailor and Nurse.” (That picture doesn’t show you, as her book does, people ripping up their telephone books and tossing them out windows). Hart tells charming stories of seeing Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich a Tiffany’s, falling in love with a midshipman who bought her a gardenia at Jack Dempsey’s Broadway bar, and rushing to try to see a plane that had crashed into the Empire State Building.

But Summer at Tiffany is equally memorable for its loving account of the last time Americans stood united in joy, not sorrow over an assassination or terrorist attack. Some people must still find it hard to stay dry-eyed when they remember the day the Queen Mary hove into the New York harbor carrying thousands of soldiers returning from Europe who, as they streamed down the gangplank, were greeted by a band playing “Don’t Fence Me In.”

Best line: Hart’s account of waiting in Times Square for the announcement of the end of the war in the Pacific on the electric ribbon of news circling Times Tower:

“Suddenly, at three minutes after seven, the big screen went dark. The crowd seemed to pause momentarily in anticipation. When the lights came on the screen read:

“***OFFICIAL***TRUMAN ANNOUNCES JAPANESE SURRENDER

“A thunderous roar rose from the crowd. Church bells pealed, air-raid sirens wailed, cars honked, tugboats tooted, firecrackers explored and people cheered as confetti and paper fell from the windows. Near me, an old man threw his cane in the air.

“An army private kissed every girl he could find. Including me. Streams of tears ran down the cheeks of an elderly woman as she watched the words circling the tower.”

Worst line: Hart’s enthusiasm for New York sometimes leads to lines like, “We had to be the luckiest girls in town to be part of the Tiffany family and watch the curtain open to the toniest display of jewelry in the world.” These may be too sugary for some tastes but are believable in context and, given the cynicism of so many recent memoirs, even refreshing.

Recommendation? A good choice for reading groups looking for light reading that’s more intelligent than all the bad novels that publishers hurl at us at in the summer. At $14.95, the hardcover edition costs less than many paperbacks. Summer at Tiffany could also be an excellent gift for someone who remembers World War II, possibly in its large-print edition (HarperLuxe, $14.95, paperback).

Reading group guide: A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Summer at Tifanny appeared in the post directly before this one on July 2, 2007.

Caveat lector: Hart creates some composite characters and compresses some timelines. Partly because she acknowledges these up front and much more directly than many authors do, these devices don’t undermine her overall credibility, though you can sometimes see the seams of stitched-together events.

Editor: Jennifer Pooley

Published: April 2007

Furthermore: Hart, now in her 80s, is a professional cellist and former chair of the Fine Arts Department at the University of San Diego. She belongs to Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, which figures in this book.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Marjorie Hart’s Memoir, ‘Summer at Tiffany’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
Summer at Tiffany
By Marjorie Hart

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 reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or use the address on the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to request permission to reproduce it.

In the summer of 1945 Marjorie Hart and a sorority sister at the University of Iowa set out, like Dorothy and Toto, for New York City, determined to find work as salesgirls. Turned down by Lord & Taylor, they talked their way into jobs as the first female pages at Tiffany & Co. Now in her 80s, Hart describes that experience in Summer at Tiffany, an affectionate memoir of Manhattan just before and after V-J Day.

Questions for Readers

1. Marjorie Hart seems to feel only gratitude that she and her friend Marty had the opportunity to work Tiffany’s in the summer of 1945. “We had to be the luckiest girls in town to be part of the Tiffany family and watch the curtain open to the toniest display of jewelry in the world.” [Page 34] Based on what she tells you about herself in her book, what do you think accounts for her sunnyside-up view of life? Do you think it has to do with her generation, her small-town Midwestern background or something else?

2. Many bestselling memoirs and biographies are what Joyce Carol Oates has called “pathography,” or books that focus on the pathological. Why do you think Hart was able to get Summer at Tiffany published when it’s so different from memoirs like Augusten Burroughs’s Running With Scissors? What makes her story enjoyable?

3. The end of World War II received more coverage than any previous event and continues to inspire books, movies, and TV shows. It also resulted in one of the most famous photographs of the century, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s picture of a sailor and nurse in Times Square on V-J Day. What did Summer at Tiffany tell you about that event (and the days just before and after it) that you hadn’t learned from other media?

3. Hart tells us up front that she has taken liberties with her story. She writes: “In some cases composite characters have been created or timelines have been compressed in order to further preserve the privacy of dear friends and maintain the narrative flow.” [Page vi] Could you see evidence of this in her story? Where?

4. Using composites characters or scenes in nonfiction is controversial. Some journalists say you should never use these. Others say it’s okay if a) you tell readers up front that you have done so and b) it’s necessary to tell a worthy story. After reading Summer at Tiffany, what do you think? Did the book justify any liberties that Hart took?

5. In our era we continually hear that it’s “healthy” to express your feelings, even if they might upset others. Hart grew up with different values: “It’s important not to disappoint anyone, or make them worry.” [Page 248] Does she seem to have suffered from this? Why or why not?

6. Do you think your parents and grandparents have the same view of this book that you would? Why or why not?

7. Some of Hart’s experiences have an underside she doesn’t deal with. For example, all of the women in the photo of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority are white. Should Hart have explored these issues? Or would that have made it a different book?

8. Late in the book, Hart has to decide whether to accept a scholarship to Yale that, she says, arose suddenly. Does she give you enough information to understand why she made the choice she did? What factors seemed most important to her decision? Would you have made the same choice?

9. Hart offers vibrant glimpses of her small-town and of Manhattan in the 1940s. For example, after the Queen Mary brought thousands of soldiers back from Europe, the Red Cross gave out 35,000 half-pint cartons of milk because the servicemen and -women seldom had milk overseas. [Page 80] What details do you remember best? Why did they make an impression on you?

10. The caption for the last photo in the book tells us that after visiting Tiffany’s in the winter of 1945, Hart didn’t return until 2004. Apparently it wasn’t because she couldn’t afford the trip. Does it seem remarkable that she didn’t go back sooner? What might explain her delayed return? Have you ever avoided going back to a place where you were happy? Why?

Vital statistics:
Summer at Tiffany. By Marjorie Hart. Morrow, 258 pp., $14.95.

A review of Summer at Tiffany appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on July 2, 2007 http://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/02 It is saved both with the June posts and in the “Memoirs” category on the site.

Your book group may also want to read:
The Bell Jar (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, $16.95, paperback). By Sylvia Plath. This satirical novel about a young woman’s nervous breakdown fictionalizes the author’s stint as a guest editor of Mademoiselle in the 1950s. Plath’s experiences in the city were so different from Hart’s that you might enjoy comparing the two books.

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. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but no on a regular schedule.

© 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 372 other followers

%d bloggers like this: