My nominees for the three best of the best-selling 1945 novels are So Well Remembered by James Hilton, A Lion Is in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley, and Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham.
If nobody’s counting, I’ll add James Ramsey Ullman’s The White Tower to the list, not because it’s such a great book, but because it’s such an interesting one.
Each of my picks has something to do with politics.
So Well Remembered
So Well Remembered is a poignant story of an elected official who is a genuine public servant.
George Boswell is hard-working, scrupulously honest, totally dedicated to doing the right thing for his town, even if the right thing is not what the town wants.
We don’t often see people like that in government.
Although in this novel, as in most of his novels, Hilton overindulges in sentiment, I nevertheless find Boswell quietly heroic. I’ve met a few George Boswells in my years as a reporter, which perhaps biases my outlook.
A Lion Is in the Streets
A Lion Is in the Streets is decidedly a political novel, but its leading man is neither quiet nor heroic.
The story is loosely based on Huey P. Long, who rode a tide of populism to the Louisiana governor’s mansion and then to a U. S. Senate seat before he was assassinated at age 42.
Unlike All the King’s Men, a more well-known fictional rendering of the machinations of the political wizard, A Lion Is in the Streets relates events from the perspective of a politician’s wife.
Verity Martin is passionately in love with her husband, but passion doesn’t blind her to his faults. I can’t help thinking of her as a 1940s Hillary Clinton.
Whereas So Well Remembered is easy reading, A Lion is in the Streets requires the same kind of serious concentration required in reading a play. The reader who doesn’t mentally envision the scene and hear the sound of the lines in his inner ear will miss much of this marvelous novel.
Earth and High Heaven
In terms of reading difficulty, Earth and High Heaven is roughly half way between the Hilton and the Langley novels. Graham writes in a way that encourages, rather than requires, slow reading.
Earth and High Heaven explores the mindset of people who will quite willing to fight, even die on European soil for Jewish lives but totally unwilling to have a Jew in their Montreal living room.
They are also not willing to have a daughter enjoy the company of a man who is Jewish, even if he is in other respects an acceptable suitor.
That strange distinction between principles one is willing to die for and principles one refuses to live with strike me as a vital political issue. We see it today in people ready to lend a hand to save the migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean but unwilling to give them a place to live once they have been rescued.
The White Tower
While it’s obviously a mountain-climbing adventure, Ullman’s The White Tower has the Second World War as its political background: What is war by politics taken to the extreme?
The crash that lands Martin Ordway’s plane in the Swiss Alps occurs as Ordway is on a bombing mission into Germany.
Switzerland, being neutral, offers escape from the war to combatants from both sides. Thus, it’s perfectly plausible that the party Ordway gathers to climb the White Tower includes a German soldier, the estranged wife of a Nazi, a Brit, a Frenchman, and an Alpine native.
The climbers seek not only the adventure of the climb, but glory for their respective nations.
Mountain climbing becomes a political act.
The White Tower is not a great book, but it is an exciting one.
That’s my list of the best of the 1945 bestsellers.
Next time here, I’ll preview the 1935 bestseller list for you
© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni