Tuesday, July 25, 2006

BOOKS READ FROM 1946, PART THREE

Now I go into the other list, the non-bestsellers, the favorite or interesting authors, etc. There are quite a lot of these for 1946, so I am going to split it up into three different posts. In this post I will write about war books. It is surprising that while the bestseller list only had two books about WW II, my list had six.

The Adventures of Wesley Jackson, William Saroyan, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1946, 336pp
Once again Saroyan draws me into his world and captivates me. Wesley Jackson is a 19 year old who has been drafted into the US Army in 1944. He hates everything about the army, which can be summed up in the word regimentation. He also hates war and killing and the use of the common man to get the dirty work done, while the big shots sit on their asses.

He survives the whole experience by making friends. He and his friends team up to get around the rules and eke out a bit of personal freedom. It is in relating the adventures of Wesley with his friends that Saroyan creates his magic: a combination of love, common sense and hard-boiled realism about people.

When I read Saroyan's biography, I learned that this book attracted hatred from the critics for being unpatriotic and against the war. But his reading public loved the book and it sold well. That is no surprise to me because Saroyan speaks for the regular guy, the most overlooked person in time of war.


A World To Win, Upton Sinclair, The Viking Press, 1946, 624 pp
Lanny Budd continues on. (See my reviews of earlier Sinclair books in 1940-1945.) This volume was the fastest read yet and I didn't want it to end. It follows WWII up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and a bit beyond. Lanny is still traveling the world as an art expert and Presidential Agent. He almost dies in a plane crash, he goes on a yacht cruise with the family of one of the girls who wants to marry him, he gets stranded in Hong Kong with the other woman he loves (a writer) and marries her. They then travel through China and Russia observing communism at work.

I understand from this book how we became allies with Russia in an effort to stop Hitler, but also see how the seeds of the Cold War are there waiting to sprout. As usual, it was an entertaining history lesson.


Williwaw, Gore Vidal, EP Dutton & Company Inc, 1946, 222 pp
Williwaw is Gore Vidal's first novel. It is set in Alaska, during WWII. A williwaw is a certain type of wind that springs up suddenly in the winter. A crew has a boat out, taking some army brass from one place to another and gets caught in the williwaw storm.

The book started so slowly and was so boring for almost 100 pages that I thought I would hate it. But suddenly, like a williwaw, it took off and was great to the end. Vidal was good on characters, observations of men in military situations and even insights into crime and questions of right and wrong. Impressive for a first novel.


Mister Roberts, Thomas Heggen, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1946, 221 pp
I came upon this book because I read Ross & Tom, by John Leggett, which is a biography about this author and also Ross Lockridge, Jr. Both of these authors committed suicide after having huge and early success as writers. John Leggett is also the author of the biography I read about William Saroyan. Mister Roberts was made into a hit Broadway play and a movie.

It is a wonderful book. It takes place during WWII when a bunch of Navy boys on a supply ship are sailing around in the Pacific bored out of their minds. They are serving under a bad captain who is an ineffectual martinet. Mister Roberts is everyone's favorite officer and guy.

Each chapter is about an incident and Mr Roberts is not in every one, but together the chapters give the reader the flavor of life on the ship. Mr Roberts' special unhappiness is that he wanted to really be in the war, fighting. He gets his wish with of course an unhappy ending.

What struck me about the book is that it is an allegory of life on the "prison ship" called Earth and accurately portrays the ways that human beings deal with that.


Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, HarperCollins Publishers, 1932, 1946, 259 pp
If I had ever read this book before, I didn't remember it. I read it for 1946 because it was reissued in this year with an intriguing preface by Huxley. In that preface, he states that there are actually three choices confronting mankind: nuclear annihilation, totalitarian rule (as depicted in Brave New World), or a philosophy/movement based on a true view of mankind which includes a way to free men of their madnesses. Wow! So he saw the crux of the problem and even named a solution.

Huxley's dys-utopia is clever, amusing and chillingly close to what the world today is moving towards. I think it would be a very good idea to re-issue this book again, make all the kids in highschool read it, etc. I wonder what sort of reviews and response the current media would give this book. If you are reading this blog and have never read Brave New World, I urge you to do so.


Hiroshima, John Hersey, Alfred A Knopf Inc, 1946, 116 pp
This book is a non-fiction account of the experiences of six survivors of our atomic attack on Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945. Hersey actually went to Japan and interviewed these people: two doctors, a widow with several children, a German Jesuit priest, a Japanese Methodist minister and a female clerk in a tin factory. 100,000 people were killed in this bombing, either immediately or from its effects. Hersey's writing about the tragedy originally appeared in the "New Yorker" magazine.

It is a fairly gruesome read, though not as bad as I had thought it would be. I was struck by several things:
1) When the bomb exploded in a blinding flash above the city, none of the inhabitants knew that it was an atomic bomb. For that matter, only some Japanese physicists and military people even knew what an atomic bomb was.
2) Five out of the six survivors spent most of the first few days helping others with little thought for their own safety: two clergymen, two doctors and one mother.
3) The Japanese people in the main had the view that they were supporting their Emperor. It was a blind and unreasoning trust in their leader. The Emperor had decreed total war. The bomb, to these people, was part of that war and they suffered through it with very little complaining. It was all a part of the duty of a being Japanese.
4) I don't recall how many died due to the attacks on 9/11, but I am pretty sure it was much less than 100,000 people. Our nation has involved itself in the Middle East for decades and been responsible for the deaths of countless people, many of whom were civilians. The reaction of our government and our people to the 9/11 attacks was so very different.

Is it possible that because it has been so many generations since a war has been fought on our soil, that we don't really get what war is? I think that may be so.

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