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From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima with Herman Wouk and the Henry family: an even longer book than The Winds of War (1971), with even greater emphasis on "scrupulous accuracy of locale and historical fact" at the expense of emotional involvement. Again Wouk's inbred cast of characters is programmed to be at all the right places and represent all the big issues. Capt. "Pug" Henry is Admiral Halsey's favorite commander--a vital presence at the battles of Midway, Guadalcanal, and Leyte Gulf, with time out to be FDR's Lend-Lease emissary in Moscow and then sit in on the Teheran conference. Pug's wife back home has a lover who's working on the A-bomb. Son Warren is a dive-bomber pilot killed at Midway. And son Byron is a submarine diving officer whose Jewish wife Natalie is stuck in Italy with her author uncle; they will almost escape many times before being brutalized by Eichmann in concentration camps, thus rediscovering their Jewishness. Meanwhile, Natalie's old Polish cousin Berel is escaping from Auschwitz with filmed evidence of atrocities, and Natalie's old flame, diplomat Leslie Slote, is trying to convince the complacent Allies that there really is a holocaust going on in Europe. Very familiar materials, arranged far too neatly; but Wouk is a gifted enough storyteller and dialogue-writer to make each personal sequence--from sub warfare to concentration-camp horrors--flicker with momentary vitality. Unfortunately, however, these sequences are separated by pages and pages of debate ("on the whole, the analogy between Auschwitz and Oak Ridge seems forced") and barely digested history, mostly military (from both German and Allied points of view). As a result, the human stories lose whatever small momentum they begin with: you can see every plot development coming at least 50 pages down the pike. Wouk's seriousness must be admired, but even War and Peace puts people first, ideas second, history third. Here it's the reverse order, premised on the notion that a wholesale retelling--without the focused intensity of a James Jones or an Elie Wiesel-is enough: "they will not have died in vain, if the remembrance can lead us from the long, long time of war to the time for peace." Enlivened only occasionally by Wouk's story-telling talents, such nobly intentioned bombast is likely to be--to an even greater degree than The Winds of War-much-bought and little-read.
Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1978
ISBN: 0316954993
Page count: 1056pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1978


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