A Marine Rifleman's Combat Odyssey in K/3/5
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Pulpy yet engrossing account of the vicious combat encountered by U.S. Marines in the Pacific theater of World War II.

Though co-authored by Allen, the main voice is that of Mace, who is unapologetic about his politically incorrect perspective (he often refers to his Japanese foes as “Nips” or in equally unpleasant terms). The intensity of his combat experience has clearly stayed with him all his life; recalling friends he never saw again after certain battles, he notes, “I suppose dying is just another way of saying good-bye.” The author is disarmingly honest, as when the young soldier-protagonist visits a prostitute in order to lose his virginity before shipping out, and particularly in his vivid recollections of an oddly idyllic Depression adolescence in Queens, with no clue of the storm that lay ahead: “Where in the hell is Pearl Harbor? Nobody had the foggiest that 108,504 U.S. servicemen would have to die…to answer that question, to make things right.” Mace describes the war in tactile, often gruesome terms, suggesting that the Pacific campaign was remarkably filthy and grueling, as when he encountered “Japanese corpses [that] have congested this open area with open wounds, glossy red tripe boiling from naked bellies.” The tough-guy prose recalls James Ellroy, but the first-person perspective suggests authenticity with regard to the little-understood experience of the frontline rifleman in the Pacific theater. Young Marines like Mace contended not only with a formidable and little-seen enemy, but also with military bureaucracy, inter-service rivalries, supply problems and an unbearable physical environment. The author mingles increasingly dark humor with terror at the seeming randomness of violent death in war, yet the narrative also dramatizes the diverse humanity of the ordinary Americans who were sucked into the conflict. The book culminates in a poignant scene in which Mace visits the mother of a close friend who died in battle.

A mostly valuable testimonial of the Pacific campaign’s desperate brutality—will appeal to fans of The Pacific or Band of Brothers.

Pub Date: May 8th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-250-00505-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2012


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