1942 by Winston Groom


The Year That Tried Men’s Souls
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Novelist-historian Groom (A Storm in Flanders, 2001; etc.) turns his hand to WWII, with mixed results.

The time was what namesake Winston Churchill called “the hinge of fate”: In the immediate aftermath of the Pearl Harbor bombing and the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, the Axis seemed in great danger of achieving global dominance. Thanks to the Red Army on the eastern front, British forces in North Africa and island-hopping U.S. marines, soldiers and sailors in the Pacific, that overarching victory was denied, but at terrific cost. Groom apparently has little interest in the contribution of non-English speakers to the struggle; “In 1942,” he writes of the U.S.-U.K. alliance, “it was basically these two great powers that fought the war on the razor’s edge against the Axis cabal.” Try telling that to, oh, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: but no matter, for in Groom’s version there is not much room for fine distinctions, and so here sniveling Uruguayans wait for signs of certain Allied victory before joining the cause, while evil Black Shirts go about beating up whomever they please—all good for a period sequel to Casablanca, but a little light for a serious book written half a century after the fact. Still, there are shining moments here. Groom’s brief account of the spy ring that broke Vichy naval codes, for instance, is worth a movie of its own. His rebuke to ideologically motivated writers who suggest that FDR knew of the impending Japanese attack is a pleasure: “To follow all the arguments suggesting that Roosevelt conspired to let the Pacific command be surreptitiously attacked by the empire of Japan is exceedingly tedious and in the end wasteful because it denies simple logic.” And his account of the Guadalcanal campaign is full of vivid if often quite gruesome vignettes of battle.

Groom brings little news, but that may be beside the point; he means the book, it appears, to make “the average American reader” feel a little better about the present war on terror. Skillfully written, but not his best effort.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-87113-889-1
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2005


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