Tumbleweeds

Since May, I have been reading The Winds of War by Herman Wouk. The 900-page tome has secured itself at the top of my Favorite Books Ever list.
The purchase of the book was a total impulse buy - I was standing in the "M" section looking at the Christopher Moore books, and when I turned around I found myself face to face with it. I'd never heard of Herman Wouk or for that matter The Winds of War, but I picked it up and bought it.
Two hours later I was about a hundred pages into it. There were some passages that really grabbed me and at the time they seemed to mirror my life.
The book starts in 1939 with Navy Captain Victor "Pug" Henry arriving home after a long day at his desk job on War Plans. His wife, Rhoda, is giving him the silent treatment. Pug begins to reminisce on the days when he courted Rhoda, during World War I. At the time, the thrill of war and her aspiring career military husband were appealing to her. Now, twenty four years later, the uniforms no longer had a glow.
Pug & Rhoda's boredom in their marriage mirrors Pug's feelings of being stuck in a less than glamorous position in the Navy. He longs to take command of a battleship and be at sea. Instead he finds himself pushing papers and working on various war plans schemes that may never come to fruition.
The book begins to shift gears to follow the lives of Pug & Rhoda's three children: Warren, an ambitious Air Force pilot-in-training, with dreams of becoming a politician; Byron, the proverbial "black sheep" of the family who is living in Italy working for a Jewish-American write named Aaron Jarstrow; and Madeline, their head-strong daughter who drops out of college and moves to New York City and begins working for a radio celebrity named Hugh Cleveland.

From the invasion of Warsaw, where Byron finds himself stuck in Poland with Aaron Jarstrow's niece Natalie, to a RAF air raid on Germany, where Pug - now an atache in Berlin - rides along in one of the bombers, the book is not so much a war book but a story about the affects a war can have on the people who must endure its maelstrom -- whether in the trenches overseas or back at home attending a cocktail party.
The book leads all the way up to the Pearl Harbor attack, where Warren is stationed with his wife and son. Originally much longer, Wouk separated his work into The Winds of War and then the second book, War and Remembrance. The second book picks up where The Winds of War left off and delves into the Holocaust and the true heart of WWII.

There are hundreds of characters in the book - Hitler and Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. The characters intersect and cross over, being blown around by "the winds of war." At one point, in reminiscing with his son Byron, Pug states "That's the worst of a service career. You never strike roots. You raise a family of tumbleweeds."

My favorite passage of the book comes at the very end when Pug realizes that the United States is about to enter another world war:

"...This madness was the way of the world. ... Why?
Because the others did it, he thought. Because Abel's next-door neighbor was Cain. Because with all its rotten spots, the United States of America was not only his homeland but the hope of the world. Because if America's enemies dug up iron and made deadly engines of it, America had to do the same, and do it better, or die. Maybe the vicious circle would end with this first real world war. Maybe it would end with Christ's second coming. Maybe it would never end."

I've already started reading War and Remembrance. It's over 1000 pages long, so it will take me a while. But Wouk's writing is lyrical and beautiful and never for a moment feels like a chore.
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1 Response to "Tumbleweeds"

  • MRhé Says:

    Nice review. I may have to check this out at some point.

    P.S. I actually came across a Wouk book at the sale yesterday but it was neither of these two.