A history of the origins and first years of World War II in the Pacific.
In this “nonfiction novel,” debut author Martell traces the events that led to war between Japan and the United States, alternating historical narrative sections with fictional interludes. In the latter, set in 1967, former staff assistants of Japanese Marshal Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto and U.S. Adm. Chester W. Nimitz—real-life men named Yasuji Watanabe and Edwin T. Layton—discuss the war. After depicting a meeting between those two men, the book offers an overview of Japan’s history and how it opened up to the West under U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry in the 19th century. It then presents biographical sketches of Yamamoto and Nimitz and recounts the failed negotiations that led to Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Detailed accounts and analyses of the strategies, tactics, triumphs, and blunders at Pearl Harbor follow, along with in-depth play-by-plays of the retaliatory bombing raid on Tokyo by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle and the pitched battles by land, sea, and air at Midway, Guadalcanal, and elsewhere. After Japan’s Pearl Harbor success, its armed forces lost momentum, stymied by American codebreakers, superior American industrial and military might, bad decisions, and simple twists of fate. The book includes maps and historical photographs and concludes with an account of U.S. forces shooting down a plane carrying Yamamoto, the commander in chief of the Japanese fleet—effectively ending Japan’s chances of winning the war—and a discussion of whether President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered Yamamoto’s assassination. Martell offers a deeply researched, richly detailed account of the events leading up to the first phase of the war, and he supports his facts and theories with extensive endnotes and a lengthy bibliography. The prose is usually solid though occasionally marred by clichés (“now the fat was in the fire,” he writes of Midway, for example). The fictitious discussion between two real-life historical figures also detracts from the book’s impact, as much of the dialogue is dry and stilted (“It is hard to describe the range of feelings and the need to suppress them to be able to function as an officer”). The author might have instead used straightforward narration to better effect. Otherwise, though, this is a rock-solid account that drives home the realities of the brutal fighting.
An often intelligent and valuable book that will help casual readers understand the story of the Pacific theater.