Tag Archives: war

Father, son and values tested in superb WWI novel

June 8, 2014

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cartographerThe moral life takes center stage in P.S. Duffy’s “The Cartographer of No Man’s Land,” a World War I novel that centers around a family and village in Nova Scotia and the impact of the first “war to end all wars.”

To go to war or not, to fight or to give up, to love or go through the motions, to admire or be repulsed by, to change or carry on — the story lines come at the reader like the torrent of artillery shells pounding at the trenches one chapter and like the waves of the North Atlantic sweeping fishermen overboard the next.

Caught in the middle are a father and son, and the novel jumps back and forth between their thoughts and dreams, their expectations and the experiences life throws their way.

Along the way Duffy sneaks in the dirty bit of history of bigotry that put ethnic-German Canadian citizens in detainment camps along with prisoners of war and “suspicious” aliens.

Those familiar with the writing of ancient Greece will appreciate references to the classics scattered throughout. Phrases from Scripture pop up, too, as wartime puts long-accepted values to the test both in France and back on the home front.

World War I garners a small percentage of battle literature in comparison to WWII, it seems to me, and the stories of Canadian soldiers even a smaller spot on the shelves compared to books about U.S. and British forces.

“The Cartographer of No Man’s Land” puts a dent into those imbalances with a handful of captivating parallel plots, meaty characters, splashes of intense action and superb writing.

This Liveright Publishing Corporation release last fall is a marvelous example of the writer’s craft, and it offers great possibilities for a sequel. Introduced to these intriguing people, readers will surely want to know what happens next in their lives, and Duffy has set the stage well with plenty of ambiguity.

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Finally, I found Ernie Pyle

February 2, 2013

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here is your war coverYou’d think that as both a WWII junkie and a newspaper guy I’d have read Ernie Pyle before. I’ve read a few of the war correspondent’s columns in anthologies, but never the bulk of his work until I came across two of the three collections of his famed syndicated columns in book form at an antique store.

So, 70 years after Pyle sent his stories from North Africa back to the 300 newspapers who ran his stuff, I ate up “Here Is Your War.”

Pyle’s brisk newspaper prose, the short, tight sentences, the reader-friendly language, the storytelling format combined with the folksy, guy-next-door tone helped me understand why he became a legend both to soldiers, sailors and airmen and to mom and pop back home.

His great technique of identifying sources not just with their name and rank but with their street address back home — “The navigator was Lieutenant Davey Williams, 3505 Miller Street, Fort Worth, Texas.” — was not simply a feel-good for the man in uniform and a way to sell newspapers around the country but a tool that brought reality and truthfulness to the reporting Pyle did. These weren’t fictional characters fighting this war but real people, sons and daughters, neighbors, someone to care about.

Although flatly unable to write about strategy due to war-time censorship, Pyle doesn’t let that stop him from giving the folks at home an understanding of what life was like for those at war. A foxhole is a foxhole, and he doesn’t sugarcoat the drudgery, the terror of shells exploding nearby and especially the destruction and death war causes.

Yet, as good as all these columns are about the early portion of the U.S. involvement in World War II, it’s at the back of “Here Is Your War” that Pyle may have made his best contribution, and that’s not to slight all those earlier columns.

Because as the Allies pushed the Germans out of North Africa, Pyle is able to add analysis to the stories he shares, to give people back home a perspective on the war that might have been perfectly timed. Take this excerpt:
“In the final phase of the Tunisian campaign I never heard a word of criticism of our men. They fought like veterans. They were well handled. They had enough of what they needed. Everything meshed perfectly, and the end was inevitable. . . . Even though they didn’t do too well in the beginning, there was never at any time any question about the Americans’ bravey. It was a matter of being hardened and practiced by going through the flames. Tunisia was a good warm-up field for our armies. . . . The greatest disservice the folks at home did our men over here was to believe we were at last over the hump. For actually — and over here we all knew it — the worst was yet to come.”

Pyle’s columns from the war in Europe went into another book, “Brave Men,” that I’ll be searching for soon. He went to the Pacific Theater afterward, and his columns from there are collected in “Last Chapter.” That book, published posthumously, is just as good as the collection from North Africa, but much shorter. His stories of how an aircraft carrier got flights off — and on — are exactly the kind of reporting we see in the Twin Cities with the “Good Question” segments on the CBS affiliate, WCCO-TV.

This war the United States had been in for four years came to an end for Ernie Pyle just four months before the war itself was to end. A Japanese bullet found him in April, 1945.

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Know D-Day like never before

July 14, 2008

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“THE STEEL WAVE,”
by Jeff Shaara

You’ll feel like you’re in on the planning of the Normandy invasion with Ike and Monty.
You’ll ride the landing craft with the foot soldiers as they near Omaha Beach.
You’ll drop from the sky with the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne.
And you be there as so many of the men who landed in France on June 6, 1944 died in order to free the world from tyranny.

The middle novel of Jeff Shaara’s three-part World War II saga rivals the film “Saving Private Ryan” for realism. War is hell, as we’ve heard, but Shaara pounds in the point.

His reader-gripping fiction puts you right in the violence of the battles, the mental strain of those leading the attack that started the end of Hitler’s Third Reich, the political hurdles that challenged Eisenhower and his foe across the English Channel, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.

So much has been written about D-Day, so much known through film, that Shaara’s work in a couple of instances seemed less than original. In fact, when they made those great war epics, good screen writers may have been using some of the same source material that Shaara did for “The Steel Wave.” Insight into Rommel may be the most enlightening chapters.

But where this book is at its best is jumping from the plane and walking in the boot steps of Sgt. Jesse Adams, a real-life soldier whose ordeal leading a platoon as it fights its way across the hedgerow country of France is what brings drama and punch to “The Steel Wave.” Finding out what happens to Sgt. Adams and many of the other players in the Normandy invasion is a fitting end to a very nice read. — bz

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