I received this from First Reads, but I had to read the first book, A Blaze of Glory, before I could read this one. That meant I read it in July rather than May, but, as July 4th marked the 150th anniversary of the events described herein, the timing was salient. This series on the Western Theater is wonderful for the moderate Civil War buff, and I’ve learned plenty about the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege of Vicksburg. I found the second book carried the greater impact, particularly as Shaara made a civilian one of the point of view characters. Going behind the fortifications to show the deprivations inflicted on the people and the horrors of the field hospitals really brings the suffering home, even if young Lucy Spence never returned to her battle-damaged domicile.
Archive for Jeff Shaara
Backlog may be the more accurate term, as I failed to blog the past two months, but I have been brushing up on my backlist. The Marriott Library had a sale in April, and I managed to pick up paperback copies of two books already on my list: A Separate Peace by John Knowles and How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. The first is a book I should have read ages ago. My grandfather also went straight from high school into the war. It was the only option. Now I have a better grasp of what that would have been like for him and his older brother. As for the second, the best I can say is the cameo appearance was brilliant!
While I wasn’t blogging about those books I was playing the game Infinity Blade, so I downloaded the story Infinity Blade: Awakening by Brandon Sanderson. I don’t read many adaptation stories, but I’ll read just about anything by Sanderson. I also dipped into Partials, the first book of a series by Dan Wells, one of Sanderson’s cohorts on the Writing Excuses podcast. I’ll be starting Fragments, the second book, this weekend. I’m also working my way through A Blaze of Glory by Jeff Shaara in preparation for the next one, A Chain of Thunder.
But the pinnacle of my backlist reading has to be Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara. I received one of the new Penguin Deluxe Classic Editions of O’Hara’s quintessential first novel, which went on sale at the end of April. I read the majority of it in an appropriately opulent location, a salon outside the Grand Ballroom of the Grand America Hotel. I was there to sell books for the Congress for the New Urbanism, and one of the Congress members commented on the rarity of seeing anyone reading this classic work in the current day. O’Hara’s style of writing feels anachronistic, but the man wrote one hell of a backstory! One might think my blog has had an Appointment in Samarra (a phrase that has likewise fallen from our vernacular), but I have a great many new releases to review this summer!
I took a three-pronged approach to my summertime World War II reading: a novel about North Africa, a profile of a POW in the Pacific, and a biography of the preeminent Soviet general. I haven’t kept up on reading Jeff Shaara’s war novels as well as I’d like, so I started with The Rising Tide. My grandfather was a bombardier in World War II, so most of my reading has been in that direction. His father was in Eisenhower’s tank company in World War I, so it was good to get a sense of the tank battles in Northern Africa under Eisenhower’s command.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand recounts the extraordinary experiences of a B-24 bombardier, but that’s where the similarities with my grandfather’s WWII service ends. He wasn’t a neighborhood nuisance or a world-class distance runner. He didn’t serve in the Pacific theater, or go down in the ocean. He didn’t survive weeks afloat on a drifting raft with no provisions and circling sharks. He wasn’t captured and treated inhumanely as an enemy combatant. This is an amazing story told with great depth of research and emotion, but I also like my grandfather’s story: he finished his missions over Germany and returned to his civilian life.
Zhukov wasn’t a bombardier, and he did not return to a regular civilian life after accepting Germany’s surrender. He garnered so much success that he was elevated to commander-in-chief of the ground forces. His fame was as fickle as Stalin was suspicious, however. In a matter of months he was busted down in rank and sent away from Moscow. After Stalin died Zhukov participated in the arrest of Beria, and was rehabilitated under Khrushchev. He rose again to the position of Defense Minister, only to be deposed and exiled once more.
Zhukov was Stalin’s go to general, the one he sent into besieged Leningrad, recalled to defend Moscow, deployed to hold Stalingrad at all costs, and put on the offensive at Kursk. Stalin appointed him marshal of the Soviet Union two months before assuming the title for himself, and gave him the honor of reviewing the Victory Parade. When his popularity rivaled that of Stalin he was removed from the capital and the authorized history of the war. In present day Russia Stalin is still revered by some for leading them through the Great Patriotic War, in spite of all the self-inflicted damage he caused. Zhukov’s reputation has been restored in all its complexity, and he is no less revered for it.