Winds of War: WWII history in stories

Herman Wouk’s 1971 bestseller, The Winds of War, immerses readers in world history from 1939 to December 1941, showing great leaders as ordinary men and ordinary men as great leaders.

Dark clouds are background for title and author info
Winds of War bring storm clouds over Europe.

The story is told through the experiences of an American naval family — Commander Victor “Pug” Henry, his wife, and their three children — and the people who matter to them: the sons’ wives and their families, the prominent people the daughter meets in her work for a popular national radio show.

Pug is sent at President Roosevelt’s behest to “observe” on behalf of the military in Berlin, England, and Russia. He meets Hitler, Churchill, Stalin.

When Germany invades Poland, one son, who was working in Europe, is trapped along with American Jewish woman with whom he’s fallen in love.

The other son, a navy pilot,marries the senate’s most outspoken opponent to American intervention in a European war. He’s at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bomb it.

Wouk lets all these characters take readers around the world to get a 360-degree view of what led each of the participants into World War II.

Amazingly, Wouk makes every character a believable human being.

The Winds of War is the reading you would have liked to have had in history class.

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
Little, Brown. [1971] 888 p.
1971 bestseller #7. My grade: A+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Sand Pebbles shows gunboat diplomacy’s murky underside

sailing on Yangtzee River
Yangtzee River

In 1925, Jack Holman becomes a Sand Pebble, one of the U. S. Navy seamen assigned to the San Pablo, an aging gunboat that patrols the Yangtze River. Jack’s a loner whose passion is engines.

He quickly learns the San Pablo is “a home and a feeder,” where coolies do the work and living conditions are easy.

Jack’s eagerness to make the engine room run perfectly raises the ire of those content to leave all the work to the coolies. And when he teaches one of the ordinary coolies how engines work, he makes the head of the coolie engine crew lose face.

Jack resents the battleship drill imposed by the impeccably Navy skipper, Lt. Collins, but he makes an effort to fit in, make friends. He even meets a girl he likes and could even love.

Shirley Eckert has come to teach at the China Light Mission run by belligerent missionary convinced the presence of the gunboats cause resentment among the Chinese and cause more problems than they solve.

One of Shirley’s brightest Chinese students becomes involved in the revolution. Shirley and the other China Light missionaries feel safe knowing Cho-jen’s political genius will protect them from even the resentment against Americans that the Navy’s river patrols arouse.

The Sand Pebbles have nothing to protect them from the Chinese resentment or from Lt. Collins’s patriotic fervor.

Richard McKenna plots his story with military precision. The characters are cleanly drawn, utterly believable, bewilderingly human.

And, if that were not enough, from his own service on a Yangtze River gunboat, McKenna has insights into the Chinese landscape and culture that help contemporary readers understand events in the Far East today.

The Sand Pebbles
by Richard McKenna
Harper & Row, 1962
597 pages
1963 bestseller # 9
My grade: A
 

Photo credit: Three Gorges by GoldDuck

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Oh, say, can you see any great Revolutionary War novels?

In honor of Independence Day, I thought I’d pull a list of vintage bestsellers about the War for Independence. I was surprised at how few novels were written about the American Revolution and even more surprised by how unmemorable those few are. In nearly every case, the historical information is more interesting than the invented plot and characters.

Here’s a short list of some long novels about the American War for Independence with links to reviews on this site.

Oliver Wiswell by  Kenneth Roberts (1940) is a story of the Revolution told from the perspective of an English loyalist, and the best of the five novels.

The Tree of Liberty by Elizabeth Page (1939)  is a slow-moving story of the political in-fighting among the colonists attempting to free themselves from the rule of the Crown.

Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter D. Edmonds (1937)  is a tale of pioneers in upstate New York who spent most of the Revolution fighting off Indian raids and waiting for Congress to pay them the money it owed them.

Stars on the Sea by F. Van Wyck Mason (1940) is a fictional account of how America got her Navy.

Alice of Old Vincennes  by Maurice Thompson (1901) is the story of a pro-colonist pioneer lass at Fort Vincennes, which changed hands several times during the Revolution.

Photo credit: “Stars” uploaded by Patwise http://www.sxc.hu/photo/581534

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni