A fictional memoir chronicles an American bombardier’s experiences in World War II.
Nathan Bedford Forrest “Sully” Sullivan was raised in a modest cottage in Virginia, on a plantation once owned by his great-grandfather, Wilcox Timor Sullivan, who fought as a Confederate in the Civil War. But although he descends from slave owners, Sully’s best friends growing up were two young African-Americans whose families had worked on his land. After graduating high school in 1936, Sully attends the University of Virginia, does a stint as an exchange student in Paris, and aspires to be a novelist. As war brews in Europe, Sully—who considers himself a pacifist—stays at home to pursue his writing; he’s called in by the draft board but is rejected, due to his flat feet. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he has a change of heart and volunteers for the Army Air Corps, is accepted, and becomes a bombardier. Sully flies many dangerous missions, earns a Distinguished Flying Cross, and then gets shot down while on a bombing mission over Schweinfurt. His injuries are grave and one of his legs is partially amputated. Members of the French Resistance rescue him, and he eventually becomes an officer in the Office of Strategic Services. He proves an effective spy, participating in the bombing of a train and the assassination of an SS general. Author Harden (Bombing, 2010) writes with great confidence and undeniable expertise; indeed, the novel’s principal strength is its historical authenticity. Also, the prose can be elegantly philosophical at times: “I drew a distinction between mental depression and abject resignation. Depression was nebulous and without readily identifiable cause. Abject resignation has a clearly tangible cause—imminent death.” However, the book is far too long and prone to gratuitous digression; for example, one anticlimactic subplot involving a health scare doesn’t advance any of the book’s primary themes and feels unnecessary. As a result, although there’s no shortage of drama, the pace can seem lumbering at times.
A historically astute, if sometimes-lethargic, dramatization of wartime.