From Here to Eternity (Modern Library 100 Best Novels)

by James Jones

Hardcover, 1951

Collection

Description

Diamond Head, Hawaii, 1941.  Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a champion welterweight and a fine bugler.  But when he refuses to join the company's boxing team, he gets "the treatment" that may break him or kill him.  First Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden knows how to soldier better than almost anyone, yet he's risking his career to have an affair with the commanding officer's wife.  Both Warden and Prewitt are bound by a common bond:  the Army is their heart and blood . . .and, possibly, their death. In this magnificent but brutal classic of a soldier's life, James Jones portrays the courage, violence and passions of men and women who live by unspoken codes and with unutterable despair. . .in the most important American novel to come out of World War II, a masterpiece that captures as no ther the honor and savagery of men. From the Paperback edition.… (more)

Rating

(287 ratings; 4)

Media reviews

Reminded me a bit of Celine, unmitigated pressure, a cross between hell and purgatory set against the backdrop of paradise in the Hawaiian Islands.

User reviews

LibraryThing member baswood
A doorstop (nearly 1000 pages) published in 1951 tells the fictional story from the inside of a number of enlisted men of an infantry division of the United States Army posted in Hawaii in 1941 taking in the attack on Pearl harbour. The author James Jones enlisted in the US army in 1939 at the age
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of 17 in the 25th infantry division stationed in Hawaii and uses that experience to make his novel drip with the realism of life in an army barracks during the first year of the second world war for the United States. This is not a novel for the feint hearted and forcibly expresses the culture of army life in the 1940's when men were hardened for war and all the women were called whores. It is a novel that takes you into another world, one that probably still exists to a certain extent and I found myself wrapped up in the edginess of the characters who fight to make sense of the life of men who serve in the armed forces.

About three quarters of the way through the novel Private Robert E Lee Prewitt is court-martialled for assaulting a senior offices. He is a man who you would be wise to ask first before using his nickname Prew. His pride and his obstinacy have set him up against the system that he knows and loves. He has been overlooked for a promotion and transferred to another unit who take him because of his boxing skills (before hostilities, commissioned officers lived or died by the athletic successes of the men they commanded), but Prewitt for personal reasons will not join the boxing team. He is given the "treatment" by his commanding officers who want to break his spirit and make him change his mind. When an irresistible force meets an immovable object then Prewitts path to a court martial and time in prison (the Stockade) seems inevitable

In room no 2 in the stockade Prew thinks that he is amongst men just like himself - he thinks “that he did not have to explain", because each one of them had the same hard unbroachable sense of ridiculous personal honour that he had never been able to free himself from either.

Hard labour in the stockade comes with cruel beatings as the breaking of a man's spirit is the only way of getting him in the right frame of mind to take his place back in the army.

Private Prewitts story runs in parallel to that of Milt Warden a staff sergeant who takes pride in his ability to play the system for his own ends. Like Prewitt he has the same pride in his abilities; pouring scorn on those around him who he can harass and bully. The Warden as he is called finds himself in deep water when he falls in love with his commanding officers wife. His playing of the system does not stretch quite far enough to allow him to indulge in a long term affair with Karen Holmes and like Prewitt who falls in love with Alma the most beautiful girl in the services-men's brothel he struggles to contain his feelings within the context of the harsh army life that he leads.

Towards the end of the novel the attack on Pearl Harbour which results in the infantry seeing action for the first time albeit far enough back from the centre of the attack so as not to endanger life: leads to the army being put on a war footing with the inevitable tightening of security measures. Both Prewitt and Warden are forced to make choices in a new lockdown situation.

Author James Jones knew how the army works and his own experiences would have enabled him to draw and refine the male characters that people his novel and while he may have too rosey a picture of the women who work in the brothels, he is more convincing with the restrictions that army wives must undergo and the life that they are forced to lead. His book bristles with machismo and sexism as the cultural norm, but there is room for finer feelings and briefly Warden and to a lesser extent Prewitt attempt to find a more enlightened viewpoint. They indulge themselves in cod psychology and Prewitt is searching for someone to provide him with some answers that he can accept. Jones is careful not to take this too far and the level of discussion is probably fitting to that of young army recruits, however these young recruits do not lack experience of the culture of a disciplined service that needs to be ready for war.

Jones attempts to re-create the dialogue that he would have heard during his time in the army and so there is some slang; phrases are shortened and words are made up or misspelt. This gives his story some authenticity, but is not overdone to the extent of making parts of his book unreadable. I found the whole novel very readable indeed. This was Jones first novel and he went onto write [Some Came Running] and [The Thin Red Line] among others in which his military experience and knowledge also played a major part. I am pleased to have been taken into the world that Jones inhabited, but probably won't feel the need to read another. However 4 stars for this mammoth undertaking.

I hope to catch a showing of the 1953 film soon if only to see Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling about in the surf on the beach.
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LibraryThing member Limelite
Not a book that has worn well with time. Jones renders dialect through misspelling; the male voices are all rendered in misspelled "casual" English to denote their lack of education and informal use of slang when they speak. The women -- oddly -- speak grammatically in spite of being similarly
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scantily educated. Jones writes women well, but not children and not non-WASPs.

As far as describing a lost generation of comparatively uneducated (by present day standards) men given few options as a result of the Depression, Jones has written a perfect military counterpoint to "The Grapes of Wrath." There is a thematic love-hate relationship in the novel: love for Hawaii, hate for the Army experienced by the main characters and strongest in Karen Holmes. Overarching all is the feeling of alienation within all the characters -- major and minor, a theme widely explored by writers in the mid-century. Jones interestingly lards his novel with the motif of fertility and Nature's strong drive for life set against the looming threat and actuality of mindless slaughter, whether of the individual (Prewitt) or in the mass of humanity (Pearl Harbor). Underlying the entire novel is the menace of violence -- boxing, physical abuse and the threat of abuse of women by men, fist fights and knifings, culminating in the aerial attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor.

Sadly, because it's seldom the case and because imagination ranges more deeply in books, the movie version of the novel is more powerful and tightly delivered, which illustrates how Jones' would have benefitted from better editing, which isn't to say censoring, that the book underwent. To the reader's ear, it's hard to distinguish the "voices" of the male characters, certain scenes go on too long (such as the card game in the latrine), and Jones uses repetition of phrases in dialogue too often for it to be effective, thus it's reduced to being annoying.

All that aside, the portraits of Prewitt, Warden, Maggio, and Karen Holmes are strong, human, realistic, and memorable. Yet, one wonders if that isn't so because of one's knowledge of the movie characters rather than from one's experience of them in the novel.
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LibraryThing member usnmm2
The first book of his war trilogy. If you only know this from the movie (which is a great classic ) you are missing a real treat. The story is so much more and so different as to be a totally new animal. A long slow read but well worth the trip.
LibraryThing member pantopicon
A deeply profound reading experience, and investigation into self and responsibility, and the tropes of alienation that more generally mark post-war American fiction. Jones' characters are stubbornly drawn and confounding. Reading Jones is a reading of one's own stumbling through the illogics of
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desire while attempting to conform to the structural prerogatives of society.

As part of the naturalistic tradition in American literature, including Twain, Hemingway, and Steinbeck, Jones' compellingly drawn characterizations and scenes are not formally tight, but, are, instead raw and human and often confusing/confused, which, here, is a very good thing.
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LibraryThing member MDifap
This book was censored in 1951in Holyoke, Springfield, Massachusetts and in 1953 in Jersey City, New Jersey; blacklisted by National Organization of Decent Literature in 1954.
LibraryThing member otterley
THis is a long haul of a book - not quite a 30 year man's stretch in the army - but a read that needs a certain kind of commitment. Jones depicts the ritual, the anti romance and the dehumanisation of army life in the infantry - where pride and comradeship are often the only things left in a brutal
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world. He shows resolution, strength and endurance off the end of respectable society; how people survive and come through hard lives scarred, but with something to hold on to.
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LibraryThing member sharontillotson
I bought this book in hard cover in 1989. It was first published in 1951 and I had read it in the 70's. It was so moving I wanted to read again, and it now resides in private library.
LibraryThing member anneearney
Military families, soldiers, and those they come in contact with on Hawaii right before World War II starts - not my usual reading choice of subject, but I read Kaylee Jones' autobiography and that made me curious about her father's work. The parts describing military life while the men were on
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duty bored me, but the other parts - the soldiers off time, their families, romances, and off time were very interesting. The novel goes into the heads of many of the characters, which is good and bad. By the end, I was attached to several of the characters. Overall, an enjoyable listen.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
I found this a memorable read. Though I read it over 50 years ago I still remember it, including the poignant though ironic ending.
LibraryThing member santhony
From Here to Eternity is one of the most authentic and realistic war novels ever penned, despite the fact that it includes very little actual combat. Its setting is the months and days preceding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as viewed through the eyes of personnel stationed at an Army
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Barracks on Oahu. Perhaps its authenticity is in some way due to the proximity of its writing to the events themselves.

I’ve read many “war” novels, a good number of which deal with World War II, but there were aspects of army life from this period that I was completely unaware of prior to reading this book. For example, the interaction between the Hawaiian servicemen and the local homosexual population (was this limited to Hawaii?) was completely unknown to me, as were many of the issues relating to military discipline. Much of the jargon and regimental culture was also new. While there were some aspects of the military which were somewhat confusing (a lot of different classes of sergeant), by and large the book was extremely educational as it relates to the period and the military culture on the island at the time.

This novel is “real” and in your face, with very little symbolism or subtlety. Having read it, I will immediately pursue the author’s other work, especially the Thin Red Line, though I saw the movie and thought it was awful. I have a feeling the book will be a major improvement.
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LibraryThing member santhony
From Here to Eternity is one of the most authentic and realistic war novels ever penned, despite the fact that it includes very little actual combat. Its setting is the months and days preceding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as viewed through the eyes of personnel stationed at an Army
Show More
Barracks on Oahu. Perhaps its authenticity is in some way due to the proximity of its writing to the events themselves.

I’ve read many “war” novels, a good number of which deal with World War II, but there were aspects of army life from this period that I was completely unaware of prior to reading this book. For example, the interaction between the Hawaiian servicemen and the local homosexual population (was this limited to Hawaii?) was completely unknown to me, as were many of the issues relating to military discipline. Much of the jargon and regimental culture was also new. While there were some aspects of the military which were somewhat confusing (a lot of different classes of sergeant), by and large the book was extremely educational as it relates to the period and the military culture on the island at the time.

This novel is “real” and in your face, with very little symbolism or subtlety. Having read it, I will immediately pursue the author’s other work, especially the Thin Red Line, though I saw the movie and thought it was awful. I have a feeling the book will be a major improvement.
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LibraryThing member deckehoe
This is a real slow-burner. I read The Thin Red Line a number of years ago and half-expected a dramatic tale of infantrymen with the backdrop of the bombing of Pearl Harbour. However, the first Japanese Zeroes don't show up until the last few chapters and by then you are so invested in the
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characters and the realistic portrayal of garrison life that they seem like an unwelcome distraction from the main piece. Interestingly Jones originally wanted to re-use the same characters for The Thin Red Line, and ended up using facsimiles of Prewitt (Witt), Warden (Welsh) and Stark (Storm).
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
It was a controversial best seller when published because of the language and overt sex. But I'm bored by it. The repetition may be Jones's way of introducing the numbing effect of military drill, but it just drove me crazy. The book could have been half the length and still given the message. What
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disturbed me even more, though, is that at base I do not think Jones likes the American soldier. And that just turned me off.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
A very good novel indeed. I am surprised that so few Library Thingers possess a copy. The story of a soldier who wants to do a simple hitch in the army. He falls afoul of military politics, and the various levels of it lead to his tragic death. There are numerous well realized characters and a
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genuine feel for time and place. Time for a revival of this work.
I read it at least twice.
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LibraryThing member waldhaus1
Not sure why I finally got around to reading this book. Perhaps the war in Ukraine. More likely chance. A vivid depiction of Amy life and life in Honolulu just before and after Pearl Harbor. Characters come to life on the telling of the story. The narrator does a good job of bringing personality
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into the characters voices. Some unexpected twists.
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Publication

Charles Scribner's Sons (1951) 802 pages

Original publication date

1951

Pages

802

Language

Original language

English
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