Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:Like no other masterpiece of historical fiction, Herman Wouk's sweeping epic of World War II is the great novel of America's Greatest Generation.Wouk's spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events, as well as all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of World War II, as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very center of the war's maelstrom. The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance stand as the crowning achievement of one of America's most celebrated storytellers.
These human conflicts are somehow always uppermost in a story that never succumbs to the weightier issues of war and destruction. I enjoyed the way in which the author deftly creates an intimate viewpoint of the three pivotal characters of the war: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Hitler himself by having Pug Henry at different stages of the novel actually meet and interact with these men. Another interesting angle is Pug's analysis of General Armin van Roon's (fictional) account of the war and the motives and machinations behind Hitler's various invasions and instances of both brilliance and bungling ineptitude. The author also provides a perceptive analysis of the psyche of the nations dragged into the war, and this is a great help in understanding how and why so many people entered into and supported their leaders in what could only be the greatest folly of the century. The book cannot, of course, adequately describe the unspeakable horror of the bombings, the dreadful atrocities perpetrated in the death camps, and many more occasions of wholesale slaughter, but the author does an excellent job of describing these events without sinking into a mire of sentimentality or a ghoulish litany. The book ends as Pearl Harbour is bombed, thus bringing the USA into a war that FD had successfully avoided in an effort to appease the war-shy American public. The bombing of Pearl Harbour, a momentous blunder on the part of Japan propelled the American giant into the war with a unanimous vote (bar one). This is a truly satisfying experience for the readers who want to sink their literary teeth into something solid!
The books have a huge cast of characters but focus on one Navy family, that of Victor “Pug” Henry. Pug is a Naval Attache steaming across the Atlantic with wife Rhoda to his new assignment in Berlin. Pug is a bit short, a former Navy Academy football player, a tough to bring down halfback, bulldoggish in many ways, hence “Pug”. The Henrys have three kids – Warren a Navy flyer, a soon to be submarine officer Byron, aka Briny (I think of him as Whiney), and Madeleine who has completed one year of college and is ready to tackle New York City doing what she does not know. On the ship the Henrys meet and befriend a Brit journalist, Talky Tudsbury and his 28 year old daughter Pamela.
Over the next 860 pages, there are chapters following the lives of these main characters. Many of the chapters are very interesting, depicting critical WWll events along with little known bits of historical fact. There are action scenes, and there are romantic scenes. Some characters are a lot more interesting than others. To break up the monotony, Wouk occasionally introduces historical characters who interface with members of the Henry family on occasion. For example, early on in his new assignment, Pug speculates on the possibility of a German-Russian Pact, and when it comes to be he is invited to fly back to DC and meet with FDR in person to share other insights. Some chapters are not so great – early on Briny develops a relationship with Natalie, a Jewish woman, niece of a famous author. As time passes she and uncle find it impossible to escape from Italy despite many, many pages describing their attempts to get immigration paperwork in order. But the great chapters, especially the Pug-Pamela ones, far outnumber the not so great ones and hence my rating for WW is 4 ½ stars.
I have a yellowed copy of WR and Wouk has written some interesting comments about his two books. He saw WW as a prologue, and that it need not be read before reading WR. He says WR is “the main tale I had to tell”. He describes the books as romance (but not as a love story). I strongly recommend reading both – I will re-read WR next year since I’m not crazy about reading 1000+ page books back to back.
There are two additional points I would like to make to enhance your reading of these books, possibly. The first has to do with the television production, specifically the cast. Pug Henry is played by Robert Mitchum. I recall to this day that there was a lot of criticism about this choice, mainly concerning Mitchum’s age. And perhaps rightly so. Many scenes worked anyway, but not all of them. And I make that comment noting that WR is released five years later. But Mitchum’s height certainly played much better than Wouk’s descriptions. As I read through WW, I watched a number of scenes of the 1983 TV presentation, courtesy of YouTube, and I strongly suggest you consider doing the same. It was much nicer watching Victoria Tennant as Pamela instead of conjuring up my own image. But there are drawbacks. When anyone mentions FDR these days, I get a mental picture of Ralph Bellamy ! Secondly, the TV series was produced in the days of video tape, long before digital. DVDs did subsequently come out but there are few “new” ones available and the prices are outrageous since there is very limited supply. Buyer beware – too often in situations like this quality is less than expected and/or the product may not include the entire telecast!
Aaron Jastrow is a fool, Byron Henry a petulant layabout for most of the book, Leslie Slote is a coward.
It's a long story, a bit melodramatic at times, will infuriate you, and bring tears to your eyes. Which was what Wouk set out to accomplish.
The thing that really caught me by surprise was how the characters reacted to Pearl Harbor. Maybe it's because they're a military family, but it was all taken in stride ... just another attack. There wasn't even any mention of all the lives lost, and there was barely a mention of Roosevelt's infamous speech.
I'm wondering if there's a sequel, because the book ends with several story lines very much up in the air.