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Sunday, May 30, 2010

PEARL HARBOR--ANOTHER GOOD GINGRICH/FORSTCHEN HISTORICAL NOVEL

In their fourth novel, Pearl Harbor, Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen once again tweak history just enough to create a compelling story examining how a change in but one historic decision might have altered American history. Carefully researched by these renowned American historians, Pearl Harbor returns us to the years prior to the surprise attack. Through the creatively detailed plot and character development, we see motives, reactions to events, and cultural and political developments that might serve as signals to be heeded in today’s world as well.

Pearl Harbor actually begins in 1934, and we enter Japan when members of the England’s Royal Navy still teach in the Japanese Naval Academy. A quiet tension exists. The world is changing as Japan seeks to fulfill its perceived destiny by entering the larger world as a leader. But leadership demands natural resources which Japan lacks. In Japanese culture, where the concept of individualism blurs for the “greater good of the family, of the race, of this mystery of destiny,” the people are bound together to make their destiny a reality. To illustrate this idea in their novel, historical events are skillfully woven into the Gingrich/Forstchen story-telling tapestry giving the reader insight not only into Japan’s problems but also into their solutions.

The 1930s is also a time of military change. In many countries around the globe there is the fight for supremacy between naval and aviation forces. To what branch should a country’s resources be funneled? In future wars, where will the might and power be most important? These are questions which need to be answered not only in Japan but also in the United States and in Europe.

Early in the novel and interacting with the fictional characters, we are introduced to a young Japanese Lieutenant, Mitsuo Fuchida, who as a Commander will lead the first wave of attack on Pearl Harbor. The reader gets to know him, his pride, loyalties and motivations. He becomes a human being in our eyes as we follow his career and his understanding that air power will be supreme.

Fuchida is only one of the “real” characters we meet, and it is through their eyes that we see the testing of the west, the cultural aspects of the war, and the years of planning involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor. And then a decision must be made about Admiral Yamamoto's role in the attack....

But Pearl Harbor is more than a character or cultural study. We’re transported back in time to become witnesses to battles and valor. They’re vividly described, and we can visualize the horrors of the times.

Perhaps more importantly, we forget that we already know the ending. As the action marches inexorably to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reader cannot help but feel the suspense, inwardly hoping that somehow what seems inevitable is thwarted.

I have so many reasons for enjoying this book. I love well-written historical fiction. I love the authors’ concept of “active history,” and the idea that a decision—even a minor one—can have vast rippling effects. I love to learn, and Gingrich and Forstchen teach me a lot about the years leading to our war with Japan. They give me insight into a manner of thinking that is really alien to my own as I come from a country with a different view of leadership and the role of the individual in society.

I enjoyed the three-novel Gettysburg series, all of which I reviewed in Third Age Traveler (http://thirdagetraveler.blogspot.com/2008/04/gettysburg-with-newt-twist.html, http://thirdagetraveler.blogspot.com/2008/05/grant-comes-east-second-book-in-this.html, and http://thirdagetraveler.blogspot.com/2009/02/never-call-retreat-historical-fiction.html), and I highly recommend this latest novel. Please let me know how you feel about it.

BTW, the second book in this series, which begins immediately following the attack, is Days of Infamy.

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