Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Checking Out the World War II Books on Boswell's Recently Published and Boswell's Best Shelves.

It’s Tuesday, and that means new titles, but I am bored of just listing random brand-new arrivals. No, I want a theme, and after putzing around with music books (Elton John’s Love is the Cure and Christopher Anderson’s Mick both caught my eye), I decided to focus on World War II. Whenever Anderson has a new book out, I remember the mediocre launch of publicity I put together for Father: The Figure and the Force (Warner Books, 1983). Hey, I got you Regis, at least.

On the Boswell’s Best is Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day, by Stephen Talty (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Best remembered for his pirate narrative, Empire of Blue Water, Talty is one of those authors who search high and low for a footnote from history to bring to life in a good narrative. This is the story of Juan Pujol, an eccectric hotelier and chicken farmer (per Kirkus) who set up an elaborate scam to fool the Germans into thinking that D-Day would be at Calais, not at Normandy.  D.B. Grady writes a particularly enthusiastic review of Agent Garbo in the Atlantic; it’s not often that you see war writing touted as “beautiful.” 

If Talty’s focus is micro, then Anthony Beevor’s The Second World War (Little, Brown) is clearly macro. Praised as an epic, authoritative work on the defining moment in the 20th century, this old-school tome is fully footnoted and indexed, just the way I like my history. But to paraphrase Passover, why is this World War II history different from all other World War histories? For one thing, Beevor, author of the bestselling D-Day, pegs the start of the war earlier than most, at the 1939 defeat of the Japanese at Khalkin-Gol by General Zhukov. Roger Moorhouse in the Independent calls The Second World War a “splendid” book with pages that “fly by with considerable speed.”

Still recent but not just out of the packing boxes is James Campbell’s The Color of War: How One Battle Broke Japan and Another Changed America (Crown). The author of The Ghost Mountain Boys chronicles the battle for Saipan, fought mostly by White Americans, juxtaposed with a terrible explosion that killed Black troops at Port Chicago, troops that were still not allowed to fight among their fellow soldiers. It’s that this terrible tragedy was due to the poor training of the soliders, who were considered with such distaste for their race that one could posit that they were seen as expendable. After this tragedy, when a number of Black servicemen refused to go back to doing this hazardous work without proper training, they were court-martialed. Dennis Byrne notes in the Chicago Tribune that their commanding White officers were the ones who should have gone to trial.

I asked our buyer Jason for a good new World War II themed novel and he came up with Frances Itani’s Requiem (Atlantic Monthly). The author of Deafening (which I read and enjoyed several years ago) writes of one Japanese-Canadian family who was deported from their British Columbia home after the Pearl Harbor attack and send to internment camps. The focus of the story is on Bin Okuma, who jumps back and forth between his postwar travels and his life in the camps. Of course when I think of books about internment camps, my thoughts run to Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor was Divine and Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but the Canadian reviewers (well, Quill and Quire) also note Joy Kogawa’s Obasan. Hey, a book set in Canada. Maybe you’d like to consider Shauna Singh Baldwin’s The Selector of Souls? It’s still got U.S. rights available!

Agent Garbo and The Second World War are Boswell's Best, 20% off, at least through July 23. The Color of War and Requiem qualify for Boswell Benefits points.

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