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Williwaw Paperback – December 4, 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Paperback, December 4, 2003
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Editorial Reviews


He had spent the two years in the Aleutian Islands crewing on US Army freight-supplying ships, an experience he distilled into a novel in nascent possession of the wit, elegantly uncluttered writing and keen intellect that have come to characterise his long career. THE TIMES Vidal's episodic structure rachets up the tension; his prose is sparse and elemental. There are calms, too, as incantory as a shipping forecast in this brief, unforgettable voyage. GUARDIAN

From the Inside Flap

A boat of the Army Transportation Corps fights through the fierce wind of the Williwaw, carrying two officers and a chaplain with its crew. Human nature and the elements move the men through their uncertain destiny. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (December 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349105693
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349105697
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,165,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gore Vidal has received the National Book Award, written numerous novels, short stories, plays and essays. He has been a political activist and as Democratic candidate for Congress from upstate New York, he received the most votes of any Democrat in a half-century.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Williwaw takes place in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska during World War II. The main action takes place during a freak, intense wind storm the eskimos call a "williwaw," it whips down off the coastal mountains and causes havoc, freak seas, etc. Gore Vidal, in this, his first novel (1946), creates a wonderful Joseph Conradian feel as tensions mount aboard a army transport ship making a weekly run. I don't want to spoil the ending. There is (I thought) a very CLIMACTIC moment when the tensions among the crew rise to their heights just as the williwaw hits, and - something happens. The serious tone and cool style of this book I found admirable. As a war novel I liked it as much as the ver different Joseph Heller's "Catch-22," and the lyrical, Tennessee Williams-like John Horne Burns' novel "The Gallery," while I liked it more so than Mailer's "Naked and the Dead" - which I liked for its themes and observations, I just wish Mailer could have (in my opinion) skipped the repetition and saved about 400 pages.
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Format: Paperback
The copyright page of Gore Vidal's "Williwaw" notes that the novel was first published in 1946. In a preface Vidal describes the background of this novel. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and, at age 19, became first mate of an army freight-supply ship based in the Aleutian Islands. He worked on this book while on night watch in port. "Williwaw" is similarly set in the Aleutian Islands during that war, and focuses on the passengers and crew of an army freight-passenger ship that is skippered by a warrant officer. The story follows the ship's perilous passage between islands. Vidal sheds light on the book's title in his preface: he defines williwaws as "sudden devastating winds that come without warning down from the island mountains."

Vidal has crafted a gripping wartime adventure. He masterfully charts the crew's struggle against the harsh, and potentially deadly, Aleutian environment. Equally compelling is the tension and conflict that build among the crew members. As the story develops, Vidal creates vivid portraits of the Aleutian Islands and the sea around them. The story is rich in details of the crew's daily life and routine on board the ship, as well as of their recreation in a seedy port town.

Overall, Vidal's prose style in the book is very clean and matter-of-fact; I found it a very effective mode for this particular story. His portrait of the wartime Army is full of satiric touches that are sometimes subtle, sometimes funny. Ultimately "Williwaw" struck me as having a dark, almost nihilistic vision of the human condition. But it's a darkness that I found thought-provoking, and not repellent. Through his plot and characters Vidal takes such basic concepts as love, religion, heroism, and justice and seems to strip them bare. "Williwaw" is, in my judgment, not only a solid adventure tale, but also a unique and compelling contribution to the canon of American war fiction.
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Format: Paperback
I hadn't read anything by Gore Vidal since MYRA BRECKENRIDGE back in the sixties. It was only when I read his recent obituary that I learned of his obscure first novel, WILLIWAW, written when he was just twenty years old. When I found out it was somewhat autobiographical, about his wartime experiences aboard a US Army Transport Service ship in the Aleutians, I was immediately interested. The copy I read was a well-worn paperback Signet reprint edition from 1968. The book was first published in 1946, perhaps one of the earliest novels by a serviceman to come out of WWII. A slim volume, not even 150 pages, not a whole lot really happens in it. There is a jealous competition between two shipmates for the affections of a Dutch Harbor whore. There is a death, yet whether it is in fact a murder, remains questionable. Vidal's omniscient point-of-view gives the reader a fairly in-depth look inside the thoughts of several of the book's characters - Evans, the skipper; Duval, the chief engineer; Martin, a mate; Bervick and others. And there are the three passengers too: Major Barkison, a rank-hungry career officer who dreams of unlikely glory; a Catholic chaplain, a former Maryland Monk; and a green young Lieutenant, the Major's assistant. All of the characters are finely wrought and fully developed. The writing style is extremely Hemingway-esque with its terse clipped declarative sentences and tight-lipped macho dialogue. In the author's note to the Signet edition Vidal acknowledges this, and more -

"But young novelists are imitative; they must be for they have not lived long enough to know who they are or - perhaps more to the point - who those others in the world are. I was certainly influenced by Hemingway, as many critics noted.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The barren Aleutians of Alaska during World War II reluctantly gave birth to "Williwaws", those sudden, devastating winds that come without previous warning, blasting down from the island mountains.
This wild screeching wind storm rips like unsheathed demon nails, screams like a banshee, and causes even barren rock to cower. It is small wonder that very little vegetation survives on the Aleutian chain.
Bored men are stationed, as passengers and crew, of an army-freight passenger ship. This ship is skippered by a warrant officer, who, not having the experience or skill, of a fully authorized Naval Commander, must navigate between the islands during the height of the storm.
We find a touch of moody melancholy bleakness, fear, contrition, and deep shadowed black and white images to capture the imagination of men frozen in suspended moments. The Williwaw screeches all around. It calls to their inner fears, to their souls, much as a harangue from a widow-maker might sound.
Williwaw was published originally in 1946, and Gore Vidal had served as first-mate on just such a ship in the Aleutians. An interesting read.
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