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War and Remembrance Kindle Edition
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Good historical fiction can teach a reader as well as entertain him. Much as "War and Peace" have sent readers to encyclopedias and other books to "learn more" about Napoleon, tsarist society, the ill-fated French invasion of Russia, etc, Herman Wouk's two novels can spur the reader who wants to go beyond the personal stories of the Henry family and into the historical period in which they lived. Although the character of Admiral Victor Henry is sort of "Zelig-like" - popping up in different cities and battles as the pre-war and war occur - he is used as the focal point of what Wouk wants the reader to know. And both books have an added dimension besides the plot line. Wouk includes running commentary from a book one of the fictional characters - General Armin von Roon, a Nazi general - is writing about Germany and WW2. Victor Henry is "editing" von Roon's memoirs and often corrects the general. By including the von Roon memoirs, the reader then sees WW2 from two perspectives, Allied and German.
Herman Wouk's writing is a bit flat, but I don't think he's ever been a particularly flowery writer. And maybe "flat" is the only way to write about events that run from Auschwitz to the Battle of Midway to the conference at Yalta. But those are the "events" in the books which are peopled by the characters. All are drawn with nuance and none is a caricature. I thoroughly enjoyed going back and reading these two books. I was constantly going from Kindle on my Ipad to Wikipedia to check this battle or that conference. It really was a learning experience!!
In “War and Remembrance,” Wouk concentrates on the years of World War II, when Commander Victor “Pug” Henry is serving in various capacities, first as the commander of a cruiser in the Pacific theater, and then as an aide to President Franklin Roosevelt who carries out several special assignments. Another major theme of “War and Remembrance” is Byron Henry’s search for his Jewish wife and baby son, now trapped with her uncle inside Nazi-conquered Europe. Through their experiences, Wouk accurately captures the horrors that those subjugated by the Nazis faced, especially inside the Nazi extermination camps.
As “War and Remembrance” unfolds, America has just entered the war and the Henry family is in turmoil. Pug Henry arrives at Pearl Harbor the day after the Japanese attack and discovers that the battleship he is supposed to command has been sunk. Rhoda Henry is having an affair and wants a divorce, and Pug is developing romantic feelings for an Englishwoman half his age. The Henrys’ oldest son Warren is a naval aviator aboard an aircraft carrier. Byron, now married to Natalie Jastrow, is serving as a naval officer aboard a submarine. He is frantically worried about his wife, son, and her uncle, virtual prisoners of the Nazis, their lives increasingly imperiled because they are Jews.
I don’t want to give away any more of the story, but I can assure you that “War and Remembrance” is a magnificent novel in every respect. In fact, I think it is even better in many ways than its predecessor is. The characters all face greater degrees of danger and despair as the war drags on. Many scenes in the book – especially those in the Nazi death camps – are brutally realistic and heartbreaking to read. Despite its great length (the paperback version runs to over 1000 pages,) the book is never dull or boring. In addition, despite the complexity of the many subplots, everything comes together to form a suspenseful, shattering climax that will leave readers, at the end of the book, clamoring for more…
“War and Remembrance” is without question one of Herman Wouk’s two great masterpieces of fiction (the other being “The Winds of War). I actually prefer it to “The Winds of War” because of its historical accuracy and emotional intensity. it I’ve now read it several times, and each time I do, I get more out of it, and I never fail to become completely engrossed in the lives of each character. This book is one primary reason why Wouk remains one of my favorite American novelists. Most highly recommended.