"Following the death of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley is determined to find meaning in his loss. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Helen, he heads north to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, a story censored by the U.S. government. While John is accompanying a crew on a bombing run, his plane is shot down over the island of Attu. He survives only to find himself exposed to a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, known as "the birthplace of winds." There, John must battle the elements, starvation, and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese. Alone at home, Helen struggles with the burden of her husband's disappearance. Caught in extraordinary circumstances, in this new world of the missing, she is forced to reimagine who she is--and what she is capable of doing. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows."-- Dust jacket flap.
Attu is 1,100 miles from the Alaskan mainland and 750 from Russia. It is known as the site of the only World War II battle fought on United States territory. On June 7, 1942, the Japanese forces, facing no opposition, landed on Attu and sent the 42 survivors of the 45 Aleut inhabitants to a prison camp in Japan.
John Easely, the novel’s protagonist, is a journalist who parachutes from a plane that the Japanese shot down over Attu in June 1943. “The Wind is Not a River” is the story of his struggle for survival in occupied Attu and the simultaneous search for Easely by his grief-stricken wife, Helen.
Easely hid in a cave eating seaweed, mussels, and the occasional shorebird. A medium mussel has twelve calories, about one-half gram of fat, and about one gram of protein. Although he lost fifty pounds during his ordeal, it would have been hard to survive without eating an enormous number of mussels.
Payton’s well-written story of Easely’s desperate plight was engaging. However, more detail about the island, the military occupation and the War would have improved the story for me. I found the love story of Helen in search of her husband to be much weaker and less absorbing.
“The Wind is Not a River” isn’t perfect, but it does focus on an important and less known facet of the United States in World War II. It’s definitely worth reading.
So the setting and era alone were enough to pique my curiosity. What I was not prepared for was the stunningly beautiful writing and the heartbreaking and riveting love story that forms the core of the novel. I finished reading Payton's novel last night and cannot stop thinking about John and Helen Easley and their incredible story, one of separation and survival, all in gorgeous writing that one rarely finds in today's fiction.
The love story is blended seamlessly with the factual and historical, and that part of the novel will surprise many readers who knew little or nothing about the war with the Japanese that played out in the Aleutians. Because journalist John Easley's part of the story is one of freezing privation, starvation and survival on the barren shores of Attu, one of two islands (the other was Kiska) invaded and occupied by the Japanese in the spring of 1943. The other half of the story, Helen's, is equally mesmerizing, as she joins a USO troupe of entertainers to travel north in search of her missing husband. You could say this is one hell of a good yarn, and it is, but it is raised to a much higher level by the quality of Payton's writing.
I can't begin to convey the intensity of the story or the beauty of the writing, so I'm gonna cop out and tell you to read the "Advance Praise" on the book's back cover - from authors Ron Rash, Julia Glass, David Vann and Wayne Grady. And, once you've read those words of praise, I will add, "Yeah, what they said - all of 'em."
"Greathearted, beautiful, riveting, gripping, heart-rending, lyrical, elegiac, triumphant, heartbreaking, stirring, etc." All those words, yes! Like Prego sauce, "it's all in there." Read this book! It is just such a beautiful damn book. I give it my highest Booklover recommendation.
P.S. If you're as interested in the Aleutians as I am, then let me recommend one more terrific book, Charles Bradley's ALEUTIAN ECHOES, a memoir of his own time there during WWII, decorated with photos, drawings and water colors. A visually beautiful book.
This is a novel with a strong historical basis, but is also an adventure story, a survival story and a love story.
A story of a strong woman who will not give up on her husband. A very poignant story, a very detailed story about wars effect on the most ordinary of people. A man who is filled with grief over the loss of his brother and is determined to find out the truth of what was happening on these islands when he and the other reporters were asked to leave. A very finely written novel and fast paced novel.
The book was very poignant. It was a story of love and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. The reader will surely appreciate the book on the basis of its romance and suspense, of the analysis of the flexibility of the human mind and the resilience of the body under extreme stress, of the description of the characters and their monumental effort to survive. The ramifications of war and the devastation caused by the battles will strike its mark for the reader as the characters suffer, and muddle through, the effects of this war. The author wanted to illustrate the emotional and physical side of the war and he did accomplish that goal. The sacrifice, the loss and the degradation of those the war touched, came through loud and clear and illustrated another lesser known event of WWII. The author of this book wanted to create a narrative around the historic events that took place, in the only place where warfare occurred on American soil.
As a novel, the book worked as a romantic thriller and mystery, as a story of survival, sacrifice and loyalty, but it fell short in the way of historic informer. The history seemed thin to me and may disappoint others. I, for one, did not know much about the Japanese invasion of American territory off the coast of Alaska, and I would have preferred to learn more about it. The attack on the Aleutian Islands was not covered by the schools I attended nor was it part of the curriculum when I was a teacher. As a result, I had the book would better inform me about the tragic elements of the war, other than that the soldiers were sent into battle without the proper equipment or supplies and that the battle was fierce with a massive amount of casualties and a huge death toll, because that is a fact common in most battles between enemies, and nothing new.
For me, I would have liked to learn how the Japanese managed to take over the islands. Was America simply unprepared for an attack? Why was the government so afraid to inform the public about it, and how did they get away with not revealing the truth? Who was responsible for ordering the attack and how did the enemy slip through American defenses? Did many journalists defy the rules and sneak behind the lines, when they were forbidden access and the news was blacked out, or was this simply a fantasy dreamed up by the author? Were there any wives who tried to find their husband the way John Easley’s wife Helen did, even though it was, essentially, a futile attempt? Because the battle in the Aleutians was not widely covered, many in the US still remain ignorant about it. Were the Aleuts really evacuated by their own government and were their homes burned down? Were many slaughtered by the Japanese and others captured and shipped off to prison camps in Japan, without anyone ever finding out about it? I would have liked the book to include more of these facts and details that it lacked so that I would have fewer unanswered questions. A prologue with basic facts would have been a great addition to the book.
The story, basically, is about a young man whose brother is lost in battle. When John Easley discovers his brother Warren is missing and presumed dead, he is determined to do his part to find out what happened to him. A Canadian journalist, he tries several times to sneak onto the battlefield, like a war correspondent, to observe what was happening, but he was turned back each time with a more and more severe warning. Finally, he tries again, dressing in his brother’s uniform; he takes on his identity and pretends to be a soldier. When the plane he is on goes down, he and another young man, Carl, a real soldier, parachute out of the dying plane and are the only survivors. Their survival will become the stuff of nightmares. Their story is gripping. The weather is merciless, the enemy is heartless, the danger is constant and any hope of a rescue is soon abandoned.
At one point, John discovers a buried package containing a woman’s note to her lover. In the note, the woman named Tatiana tells her sweetheart, “wind is not a river”, which is where the title gets its name, however, I am really not sure what the title means, in terms of the book (perhaps that the wind cannot carry them home or offer an escape, but a river can), but the idea of this woman somehow sustains John and he hallucinates her presence and has conversations with her when his loneliness, hunger and despair cause him to lose touch with reality. He communicates with her and listens to her advice. She maintains a semblance of sanity for him although he is not quite sane and she is certainly not quite real.
Meanwhile, John’s wife Helen, guilt ridden because of the ultimatum she gave him before he left, sets off to find him. Her plan seems ill conceived and truthfully, irrational. She abandons her father who recently suffered a stroke and becomes part of a USO entertainment group and requests to be sent to Alaska, where she believes John went missing. The author parallels Helen and John’s love story with the survival story of John and Carl and then John and Tatiana, John’s imaginary girlfriend and confidante. Both Helen and John experience loneliness, distress, hunger and cold, but for John, the suffering is far more extreme.
If nothing else, the book exposes the futility of war, the waste of human life and the foolish choices made in the interest of righteousness. The back stories of the characters were a little weak, and the whole story seemed a bit incongruous, as the events seemed unrealistic, although the war was real, the battles were fraught with danger and there was an immense loss of life in this little known episode of World War II. If you want to just take the book on face value, it is a good mystery and a moving love story, but it is not high on historic fiction, other than it was a battle that took place during WWII.
His wife Helen's part of the story is less believable, but as a love story it makes for a good read, and gives us a look into the early USO as it cobbled shows together to go entertain the troops.
The author chose a fascinating area of WWII to explore; I don’t think I’ve seen another historical fiction detailing the Japanese invasion of American soil in Alaska and the media blackout the government put on it in the press. His research on the minutia of life on the Alaskan military front for the men who served and the women who entertained and the intense struggle for survival in the tundra kept me severely engaged.
I also really enjoyed the writer’s use of imagery and symbolism, not something I usually notice. I don’t know if it was intended by the author or not, but his use of these symbols made me sit up and take notice. They added a depth to the harsh survival war story that wouldn’t be there otherwise. The whole dog thing… Wow… The way he uses that whole sequence to illustrate the dire straits that John’s humanity is in and what a human is willing to do/sacrifice to survive still makes my hair stand on end.
The only that that ruined this whole experience was that freakin’ ending! I mean really?!?! I don’t want to give any spoilers but be prepared for your jaw to drop and a surge of anger to arise. I was pissed!!! After all that struggle and experience? Really?! *gggrrr*
So while the ending pissed me off and left a sour aftertaste in my mouth, the overall book was a nerve-wracking and engrossing experience. You’ll live every struggle John goes through to survive and that Helen experiences to bring her husband home safe. The author’s research into this part of WWII history will keep any lover of historical fiction spellbound, as well. Recommended, just brace yourself for that ending.
John has the far more compelling story here. He must struggle to survive in the hostile environment and the things he does, as well as things that are done to him, are horrific in many cases. It was easy to visualize the bleak and bitter cold of the island. John and Helen may not physically be together but in flashback we get to see how dynamic their love story really is.
I thought this was a fascinating and beautifully written story about a period of American World War II history that is largely unknown.
The Wind Is Not a River is also a novel of love and commitment as one character struggles to survive and his wife struggles to find him. John Easley is a freelance journalist, he has come to Alaska both to find meaning in the death of his brother and to report on what is happening even though he had previously be ordered to leave. He and his wife argued before he left for Alaska and this haunts both of them. Helen, the wife, decides that she must find her husband and bring him home. And unfortunately I found this part of the story quite improbable and it raised so many questions that I found the momentum of the story suffered.
The author writes beautifully and most of this novel held me spellbound, but the awkward sub-plot and a weak ending caused me to feel a lack of connection to both the characters and the story. I so wanted to love The Wind Is Not A River as it did keep me enthralled most of the way through but I just couldn’t quiet that nagging voice inside that had unanswered questions.
"..One moment (the wind) it's a hurricane, the next a breeze. But rivers! Rivers flow through the seasons-under
bright summer suns, plates of winter ice-morning, noon and night.
Wind rises up and fades away, but a river flows endlessly.
And our suffering? This too shall pass. The wind is not a river." p.186
World War II is the backdrop of this novel.
John Easley, a journalist, addresses the death of his younger brother Warren (in Europe) by traveling to Alaska's Aleutian islands to investigate Japanese invasion.
The area is censored by the US government.
Unknown to others, he accompanies a bombing crew and is shot down over the island of Attu.
This is his story of survival in "the Birthplace of Winds".
With his disappearance, we also travel with his wife Helen.
She becomes obsessed in the quest of finding John and their returning home, propelled by an argument they had
when they parted.
This is her story of self discovery, as she finds courage and learns just what she is capable of doing.
In this excellent, unputdownable novel, John Easley is a journalist who was in the Territory of Alaska when the Japanese bombed a naval base and an army base on islands there. Although the U.S. government orders all press corps out of Alaska, ensuring that civilians are mostly unaware that the war has come to the U.S., John feels they have a right to know and it is his duty to sneak his way back in. On his third try, he gets in and then accompanies an aircrew running sorties over the Japanese-occupied village of Attu. The plane crashes. What a mix of fact and fiction!
THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER continues to mix fact with fiction as it tells, in alternating chapters, the stories of John’s survival while he evades enemy detection and of his wife Helen’s determination to find him.
This book truly grabbed me. Wherever I went, whatever I was doing, THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER was with me until I finished reading it. I not only enjoyed John’s and Helen’s stories; I also learned of this attack on the U.S. that the government mostly succeeded in keeping quiet.
This novel gets my highest rating. I didn’t want it to end so read the Acknowledgments and the Author’s Note to put it off.