I have a real appreciation of the works of Herman Wouk. He was one of the first "grownup" authors I read, devouring "The Caine Mutiny" as a 14-year-o..Show More »ld, and then a couple of years later reading this work. I was in college when "War and Remembrance" finally came out, and I remember going to the mall to buy a much-needed pair of pants and instead buying the book! Over the years I developed a taste for English literature, particularly 19th-Century stuff -- Austen, Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot -- the usual suspects. And Herman Wouk was always mentioned as an almost quintessential second-rate writer. Perhaps because of my youthful awakening under his spell, I have never thought of him like that. When people say he writes soap operas and wooden dialog, I don't see it. I think his characters are well-drawn, his plots full of interest, and his style very straightforward and middle-American (in a good way!) Maybe it's because one of his themes is the value of the seemingly boring, day-to-day doers who get most of the jobs in the world done. Pug Henry in "The Winds of War" is that sort of person. His other books don't make heroes out of these plodders -- lots of them in the role of the behind-the-scenes fathers, providing the wherewithal for the more interesting lives of the younger generations.
"The Winds of War" seems to me to be written as part English novel of manners and part a great, long complicated work of Dickens. There are lots of characters who are drawn realistically, but they are put in situations requiring strange coincidences and improbable virtues. Victor Henry is the chief example of this. He is a convincingly-portrayed career naval officer thrust into a minor diplomatic post against his will. But then he displays a level of acumen and presence of mind to rival the the greatest of statesmen. He always seems to come up with the perfect thing to say, earning him the surprised respect of the big shots of the era (Big big-shots, like Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin.) He is perhaps just a bit too perceptive and unfailingly correct to be quite believable, but he overall feels like a real person we are following around the globe. His rocky relationships with his children seem real enough, and his personal traits are well-drawn and always interesting.
The real model for this work and the sequel is the great "War and Peace" -- the mixture of personal stories with world events, the encounters with real historical personages, and the mixing of historical narratives with the story line. This works successfully as a plan for the two books, I think, despite the great chutzpah it took to try it. I don't claim that Wouk is the writer Tolstoy is, but WWII is a theme that can at least deserve the same kind of treatment. The brief interlude that the hero and his love interest spend at Tolstoy's estate accompanied by a moment of dejavu make this treatment explicit.
Finally, this very entertaining and even (I would argue) profound story is beautifully narrated by Kevin Pariseau. He does the usual different voices that all the good narrators pull off but he also does accents, and even impersonations when necessary (e.g., Roosevelt and Churchill.) I am very much looking forward to his rendition of "War and Remembrance", assuming that will be following soon.
Considering the fact that there are so many reviews on these two books, I'll be brief. I owe you that much, if you're choosing to read this one, after..Show More » all. This book is THE BEST historically accurate FICTIONAL book on WWII you will ever read, period. The narrarator could not have been better. I honestly cannot think of any reason whatsoever that anyone would rate this less than 5 stars. The characters are so deeply fleshed out, that by the end you actually CARE what happens to them. This is remarkable when you consider that the book follows something like 10 different people (so it seems). IF you love WWII, and feel like reading about a very interesting group of people that lived through some of its greatest moments, then this is the book(s) for you!!