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A fact-heavy but consistently compelling look at a day of real-life naval heroism.

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A historical novel about a rescue mission in the Pacific theater of World War II.

In his fiction debut, Santos centers history on the tail end of the U.S. Navy’s titanic war efforts in the Pacific, where the aircraft carrier USS Randolph and many other American ships act as “the battering ram of the Fifth Fleet” as “the war rolls on with the kinetic energy of a tidal wave”—even though Germany has already surrendered. The 5th Fleet is stationed off Okinawa, Japan, and Santos introduces his readers to a wide spectrum of men who keep it running, from plane engineers to officers to ship captains, all carrying the weight of hundreds of lives on their shoulders: “Every morning,” he writes, “Randolph warms up in her little corner of the ring, jabbing in place, sharpening the blood sport of war.” Ongoing combat, including relentless kamikaze attacks, has resulted in burials at sea every day, and every sailor is aware that their next mission could very well be their last. One such mission, on May 14, 1945, involves the Massachusetts-born pilot Ensign John Morris and Midwestern gunner Cletis Phegley, who find themselves marooned after being shot down in the Pacific, making them the object of desperate searches from both sides. Santos skillfully shifts his story from large-scale combat operations to focus on specific characters and details, and he wisely expands his cast far beyond Morris and Phegley, painting engaging portraits of personnel at every level of United States naval command. Also, he effectively extends his focus beyond combatants; one of the book’s most memorable characters, for instance, is a United Press International war correspondent named Denton who tells his captain honestly, “I’m trying to cover the war from the unique perspective of a civilian frightened out of his wits.” The book’s documentary elements often dominate the narrative, but even so, the reading experience is genuinely immersive throughout.

A fact-heavy but consistently compelling look at a day of real-life naval heroism.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2023

ISBN: 9798886830279

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Dorrance Publishing Co.

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023

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A frank and open-minded account from Flemish journalist Joris of her venture into Zaire, formerly called the Congo, the infamous inspiration for Conrad's Heart of Darkness. As a child, Joris heard the tales told by her uncle, a Belgian missionary serving in the Congo. His visits were family milestones and the curios and gifts he sent back to Belgium became treasured heirlooms. But Joris the adult journalist wanted not only to follow in her uncle's footsteps but to see for herself what contemporary Zaire was like. A subtext here is a retrospective look at Belgian colonialism, notorious for its tragic failure to prepare the Congolese for independence, which, when it occurred, resulted in immediate chaos that led to the subsequent rise of Mobutu Sese Seko (president since 1965) and the ``Barons,'' who have brazenly used the country's great mineral wealth to enrich themselves. Joris first visits her uncle's old mission postings, where she meets his now-aging colleagues and learns that the Church is still one of the few ways out of poverty for bright young men, though many local churches and schools are closed down for lack of money. This poverty is a common theme of Congolese life, Joris learns, as she balances encounters with white expatriates with an excursion on the aging steamer that plies the Congo River from Kinshasa to Kisangani; a visit to Gbadolite, Mobutu's own Versailles; a trip to the southern mining province of Shaba, which in 1977 rebelled against Mobutu; and, on the lighter side but no less instructive, evenings in Maton, the famous entertainment district of Kinshasa. A deliberately impressionistic rather than definitive account, with Joris's perceptive insights and palpable sympathies for a long-suffering people making it more than just another travel book.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 1992

ISBN: 0-689-12164-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1992

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The rigors of Irish monasticism in the medieval period, well told by travel writer Moorhouse (On the Other Side, 1991; Hell's Foundations, 1992; etc.). The first half of the book is an imaginative reconstruction of life in an Irish monastery on the secluded rock-island of Skellig Michael from its founding in 588 to its dissolution in 1222. Moorhouse uses fictional vignettes to enliven the text. Each chapter is a well-chosen window onto a significant figure or event in the monastery's history—an 824 attack by Viking raiders, for example. In these fictional glimpses, we see the larger picture of Irish monasticism's evolution from a rigorously austere island faith to a less zealous, Romanized religion. Skellig Michael, perilously located on a sheer cliff rising from the ocean, began as one of the most ascetic of the Irish monasteries. Gradually, however, the population of monks began to dwindle, and the last fictionalized chapter shows the abbot and his aging disciples rowing their way back to the security of the mainland. The first half of the book is so intriguing and beautifully written that the second, a more traditional historical treatment of Irish monasticism, arranged topically, pales by comparison. Some of the discussions are absorbing, though; in one instance, Moorhouse explores the theme of syncretism, arguing that early Irish Catholicism, rather than eradicating pagan Celtic rituals, incorporated them into monastic life. This eclectic borrowing was able to continue for centuries because of Ireland's geographical remoteness from the centralizing forces of Rome. Due to accommodation with a Celtic spring ritual, Easter was dated differently than in Rome, a discrepancy that continued until Rome demanded conformity in the early 8th century. An uneven work, then, more fascinating in its first, fictionalized half than in the rigorous explications of the second, and one that might have worked better presented purely as a novel. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-15-100277-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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