Saturday, October 06, 2007


The following books comprise the second half of the top 10 bestsellers of 1951.

The Cruel Sea, Nicholas Monsarrat, Alfred A Knopf, 1951, 510 pp

Here is another of four books about World War II to make the list in 1951. At #6, The Cruel Sea takes place on the Atlantic Ocean and involves the British Navy.

Monsarrat takes the reader through the entire war, beginning with the building and staffing of a corvette in 1939. The corvette was a small and minimally equipped ship, designed to provide escort and protection for supply ships. In 1939, they did not even have radar, so life at sea was dangerous in the extreme. From 1940 through 1943, German submarines had the upper hand in the Atlantic and only about half of the supply ships reached their destination. The other aspect of the cruel sea was weather, the Atlantic being known for storms, cold and fog.

The two main characters are the captain, Ericson and his first lieutenant, Lockhart. After looking up Monsarrat on the web, I am sure that Lockhart is the author, who states that the novel is based on a true story. He keeps a good balance of adventure versus the human stories of various sailors and of defeats versus victories.

This is a patriotic story and very pro-British Navy, but not in an annoying way. You get a fair portrayal of the differences of viewpoint between military and civilian. He also gives a humorous picture of Americans from the British side of the story. It occurred to me, while reading this book, what a difference it made for the United States that the war was not fought on our land. We may have suffered from rationing, but American civilians had no concept of the devastation and losses which all European civilians had to undergo.

The Cruel Sea is, according to an article in "Bookmarks" magazine, one of the World War II books that is still read today. I think that would be because of the masterful descriptions of life at sea. I was bored a few times while reading this novel, but generally was involved and excited by it.

Melville Goodwin, USA, John P Marquand; Little, Brown and Company; 1951; 596 pp

This is the fifth bestseller I've read by this author since 1940. It was #7 on the list for 1951 and the fourth book on the list about war and the military. Marquand has a very smooth style which lays out a story for the reader and at the same time involves you emotionally with each character.

Sidney Skelton is a radio commentator and the narrator of the book. He has his own troubles with his amount of fame, the way his income is made and the entertainment industry in general. But the main character is General Melville Goodwin, US Army, West Point graduate, husband, father and overall good person.

The entire life story of Goodwin unfolds and Sidney Skelton's connection with him from WWII brings them together again. Goodwin is a career soldier and has clear, simple views about it all. As long as he is in action, he is happy and has no doubts about anything.

Peacetime is a different story and Melville Goodwin falls into various pitfalls including "woman trouble". Sidney feels obliged to try to help him out. The book then is a study of military life versus civilian life, between which there is a lack of reality on both sides. It is also a study of what happens to committed generals like Goodwin when the war is over. Basically peacetime is unexciting and all they really have to hope for is another war, because that is what they are trained to do.

In the background of all this is Marquand's signature viewpoint about women, which is that they actually run the show. So this was, I think, a representative novel of the times in 1951. It is a time of postwar malaise and adjusting to peacetime. While the wind down goes on in Europe, new wars are being cooked up. Yet, it is different from many of the postwar novels in its attempt to understand and even admire the military sector of our nation.

Return to Paradise, James A Michener, Random House Inc, 1951, 416 pp

Michener wrote this as a follow-up to Tales of the South Pacific, which came out in 1947 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948, starting off a long career of bestselling books for the author. Tales was a memoir of fighting World War II in the Pacific and in Return to Paradise, Michener revisits each island covered in the first book. I suppose it counts as fiction because he makes up stories about soldiers and the natives with whom they interact.

The format here is a report on how each island is doing in the late 1940s followed by a short story, island by island. It is not his best writing in my opinion and was quite boring to get through. I read this book about six years ago when I was attempting to do a full chronological read of Michener's books and in my report I wrote, "He also gets a bit of his own world political view in." I now do not recall what that view was except that Michener was not a writer to denigrate the United States in any way.

The Foundling, Francis Cardinal Spellman, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951, 304 pp

The #9 bestseller for 1951 was written by a Catholic Cardinal who was Archbishop of New York for 28 years beginning in 1939. I wonder how a Catholic Archbishop becomes a bestselling author of fiction. Judging from the book, it isn't because he is a good writer.

Peter Lane was found in the manger of the Christmas display in Saint Patrick's Cathedral by a young soldier just returning home from WW I. The soldier brings him to a home for foundlings and is prevented from adopting the boy because he is not Catholic, while the home for foundlings is a Catholic institution.

The book follows Peter's life and includes the way the young soldier and his wife stay in touch with Peter. It is horribly written, sappy and sentimental and a stunningly boring read. Spellman seems to be saying that all religions should be recognized but at the same time, supporting the idea that a Catholic can only be raised by Catholics. Sometimes I get so tired of double-speak.

The Wanderer, Mika Waltari, G P Putnam's Sons, 1951, 438 pp

This is the third and last of Waltari's books to be a top ten bestseller; in fact it was #10 in 1951. It continues the story of Michael, the main character in The Adventurer, which was #9 on the list in 1950.

Still in the 16th century, Michael and his faithful friend Andy set off on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem because Michael wants forgiveness for his sins. But they are soon captured by Moslems and must convert to save their lives. Even though they are slaves for the rest of the story, Michael becomes the right hand man to the advisor of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and lives a life of luxury for many years. Thus you get the story of Suleiman's attempts to rule the world.

Once again, as in his other two books, travel, adventure, war and political intrigue abound at a non-stop pace. Waltari's point is that war, politics and religion go together and keep a world in turmoil. The Moslems and the Christians are equally corrupt but this game of conquest, riches and power is what keeps everyone going, including the women, the slaves and the Jews. Michael is always looking for knowledge, wisdom and peace, but he never finds it.

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