GODS OF WAR by John Toland

GODS OF WAR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Primarily for WW II military-action buffs: a long, shapeless saga of two marriage-linked families (one American, one Japanese), 1941-45--but with most of the space going to the American men in Pacific combat. Frank McGlynn is an eminent oriental-history professor whose daughter Floss marries Tadashi Toda of Tokyo in 1936. So, when--despite McGlynn's advice to FDR--the US provokes Japan into the Pearl Harbor attack (cf. Toland's Infamy), Floss finds herself a despised American in Japan. . . while other family members take on new wartime roles as well. Prof. McGlynn becomes an adviser to Naval Intelligence; his son Will, Gen. Marshall's man in Manila, winds up with ""Skinny"" Wainwright on Bataan, becomes a POW, survives malaria and red-ant torture, escapes, joins the Filipino guerrillas, is recaptured; younger son Mark, a former Communist, joins the Marines, falls in doomed love with a half-Maori girl in New Zealand, takes part in a series of island-invasions, converts to Catholicism, works as a language officer on Iwo Jima and Okinawa (coaxing Japanese soldiers out of caves); and their sister Maggie, who ""within minutes. . . could persuade most people to reveal their most intimate secrets,"" becomes a gritty, disillusioned newsgal on Okinawa. Meanwhile, in much less detail, the Toda-family stories are also thrown into the merry-go-round narrative: while Floss and her son suffer from anti-US hatred, diplomat-husband Tadashi is jailed and fatally tortured; his brother Shogo follows, with decreasing enthusiasm, radical-nationalist Col. Tsuji; brother Ko, a gentle painter, winds up at the Battle of Breakneck Ridge. And by 1945, while Prof. McGlynn vainly urges FDR against the brutal approach to Japan (unconditional surrender, bombing), POW Will has been moved to Japan. . . just in time to fall in love with an imminent victim of the Nagasaki A-bomb. Historian Toland (The Rising Sun) shows no talent for fictional storytelling here: characterization is virtually nonexistent; dialogue is stilted; the nearly 50 historical cameos are tossed in with little finesse. (""C'mon over and meet Ernie Pyle."") And the formless, unsatisfying plotting is only half-explained by the fact that a sequel--to be called Occupation--is planned. Still, with much of the combat/POW material based on interviews, War-in-the-Pacific buffs will find several viscerally detailed sequences involving torture, starvation, gore, and illness; and WWII-history devotees will find lots of Toland opinions--on FDR, MacArthur, and others--roughly blended into the plodding narration.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1985
Publisher: Doubleday