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Hooper's War Paperback – May 1, 2017
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Peter Van Buren's Hooper's War is a powerful anti-war novel of empathy, wit and engaged imagination, vividly depicting war's commingled devastation and savage beauty.VanBuren portrays the lasting wounds suffered by innocent victims and guilt-ridden soldiers wracked by grave moral injury. As Van Burenwrites, "This sh*t doesn't end when the war does, but only ends when we do."
--Douglas A. Wissing, journalist and author of Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America's Endless War in Afghanistan and Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.
With its changing points-of-view and reverse timeline, Peter Van Buren's Hooper's War is a spiritual cousin to the movies "Rashômon" and "Memento." The book is set in an alternate World War II, in which U.S. forces invade Japan, rather than drop the atomic bomb. With philosophical precision and wit, VanBuren constructs a literary origami, which unfolds to reveal that the creases and lines of history are determined as much by personal chance as they are big decisions--and that war is as much our doing, as it is our undoing.
--Randy Brown, author of Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire (Middle West Press, 2015)
Hooper's War is evocative and beautiful, its writing sweeps you along, touches lives and transports you effortlessly on a sometimes poignant, sometimes stark, sometimes obscure journey; that of Hooper himself, attempting to reconcile the deep tragedy and moral ambiguity of war. These are ever-relevant themes and Van Buren's authentic insight into human nature reveals itself like the prick of a pin. Anyone can recognize the depth of research that has gone into this book, it's something those who know Van Buren have come to expect from his work- it feels effortless and uniquely enriches each character, bringing them to life in ways that build empathy for the reader,through details or twists from the ordinary to the obscene - fluently evoking the horror of war.'
-Dr. Emma L Briant, Lecturer in Journalism Studies, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom.
A bloody American invasion of Japan; the incineration by firebombing of Kyoto; an unlikely truce between a U.S. lieutenant and a Japanese sergeant. In Van Buren's imaginative retelling of the end of World War II, we learn about the stubborn horrors of war -- and the fragile grace that blooms ever so fleetingly amid the chaos. "The question isn't so much why Private Garner is screaming," notes a doctor treating a PTSD casualty. "It's why we aren't." Striking words from a story of searing intensity.
- William Astore, Lt Col, USAF (Ret.), author of Hindenburg:Icon of German Militarism
In this alternate-history novel, Van Buren follows both present-day and historical timelines to explore what might have happened if the United States had launched a ground invasion of Japan to end the second world war.
In 2017, elderly Nate Hooper is in a retirement home, reflecting on a recent visit to Kyoto, during which he kept a promise to his late wife. But back in 1946, Hooper is an 18-year-old Army officer leading a group of equally young soldiers through the remnants of Kyoto after it's been firebombed, dealing with the horrors of war and the less-than-humanitarian instincts of his own men.
The narrative jumps between the two timelines as Hooper contends with memories of battle and secrets he's kept for decades. Readers gradually discover the truth about his wartime actions. Van Buren presents a bleak picture of a world in which no action is ideal but avoiding decisions is impossible. The dialogue captures the raw emotion of war and the soldiers' struggles for self-preservation ("Is the morphine for Garner so he stops screaming, or is the morphine for you so you don't have to hear him screaming?" says a medical officer. "He probably feels better screaming").
Hooper is an engaging protagonist, a prototypical innocent young man dealing with the loss of his illusions and the demands of a new role ("The worst words in the English language to me had become 'What should we do, Lieutenant?' "). Van Buren doesn't provide simple answers, and readers are left with the understanding that decisions made in battle can be both right and wrong at the same time.
A complex portrayal of a counterfactual invasion.
-- Kirkus Reviews
From the Author
While the story in Hooper's War is set in WWII Japan, the point of the bigger story here is aimed dead-center at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Nate Hooper fought in Japan in World War II, fighting on the ground and following the orders of his superiors. Along the way, he lost fellow combatants and his innocence, though superiors don't care much about the loss of spirit and hope. They care about orders followed, Japanese opponents fought, and painting a heroic picture for those left behind in the United States.
The story is told in reverse chronology; it opens in 2017 with Nate returning to Japan, then we go backward in sections to see the events referenced, interspersed with Nate's musings in 2017, First, we see the battle at Kyoto, then the "daring escape" his superiors talked about and changed the nature of in reports, the train station attack, the fields, etc. We keep going further and further back, seeing the origin of his disillusionment. Death is never pretty, but he sees it in various kinds of ways. It's vividly described, and brings home the horror of war on soldiers. We also get scenes from the perspective of Sergeant Eichi Nakagawa, and the horrors are the same for Japanese soldiers.
"...the opposite of fear out there isn't safety, it's love. And you do insane things for those you love, including die for them." (page 102)
War, as seen on the ground, is one that carves out humanity in pieces. Battles aren't grandiose, and the losses are glossed over for the media back home. It's an entirely different world, one where the casual cruelties are rewarded. Saving lives is actually punished if that goes against orders, further lessening the hope in the field.
"War isn’t a place that makes men better. Flawed men turn bad, then bad men turn evil. So the darkest secret of my war wasn’t the visceral knowledge that people can be filthy and horrible. It was the visceral knowledge that I could be filthy and horrible." (page 115)
The end of the book feels melancholy, and Van Buren adds commentary to explain the historical significance of the events he chose to portray in the novel. This is definitely a book that will haunt you long after you put it down.