The Frozen Hours: My Review

The Frozen Hours Book CoverThe Frozen Hours by Jeff Shaara is not an exploration of the entire Korean War. It begins in September 1950 and follows the events taking place through mid-December of that year;  North Korea’s invasion of South Korea, the strategically brilliant amphibious landing at Inchon, and the 1st Marine Division’s heroic fight for survival at the Chosin Reservoir.

Like his other novels these historical events have been meticulously researched and faithfully documented. Where Shaara separates himself from other historical fiction writers is his ability to give voice to the people who actually lived them. The dialogue he creates articulates their hopes and fears, egos and ambitions, strengths and weaknesses. From the generals in charge to the “grunts” carrying out their orders emerges a very personal perspective on war that immerses the reader inside the hearts and minds of those who planned and fought in the campaigns and battles that set the stage for a brutal protracted war with no real victor.

The story that unfolds in The Frozen Hours reveals not only the horrors of combat and the terrible human costs involved, but the capacity of men to suffer and somehow survive not only a determined enemy but sub-zero weather with temperatures that often dipped to forty degrees below zero.

In fact, it was this aspect of the story, the conditions on the ground, that best reflects the human will to survive. My father served in Korea and, though he never talked about his combat experiences, did say on numerous occasions that it was the coldest he had ever been in his life. However, it was not until I read Shaara’s novel that I appreciated this simple reflection. Men’s hands froze to their weapons, heavy equipment malfunctioned because oil and gasoline couldn’t flow, boots and layers of clothing meant to keep men warm actually increased perspiration resulting in frostbite and the amputation of fingers and toes, widespread malnutrition and dehydration occurred not because of any lack of food or water, but because they both froze solid with no way to consume either. The dead were even used as defensive barriers because bullets couldn’t penetrate the frozen bodies.

While American and NATO forces had the tactical advantage of artillery and air support, and the Chinese possessed overwhelming manpower and the willingness to absorb huge losses, their common liability was the weather. It pushed human endurance well beyond its limits.

Shaara tells this harrowing tale of courage through the eyes of a select group of men – General Oliver P. Smith, the commander of the 1st Marine Division, Chinese General Sung Shi-Lun, and PFC Pete Riley, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. It is a memorable account of real people crafted by a gifted writer and testament to the memory of those who fought in what has often been called “The Forgotten War.”

 

 

In the Blood of the Greeks: My Review

In The Blood of The Greeks Book CoverAuthor Mary D. Brooks’ novel looks into the “katochi,” the occupation of Greece by the Nazis during World War II. It pays homage to the Greek Resistance movement as well as the efforts of local priests and citizens to save Greek Jews from the horrors of Hitler’s final solution, and it tells the story of two women, one Greek, one German, who not only survived the war, but found both love and hope in the process.

Zoe Lambros is fourteen, headstrong, outspoken, and openly defiant towards the Germans who have occupied Larissa, Greece. Eva Muller is eighteen, the daughter of the German commander whose troops now enslave the local Greek population, and reviled by Zoe. Crippled in a bombing of her home while her father was stationed in Paris, she is recovering not only from physical wounds, but emotional scars suffered during aversion therapy. Eva’s attraction to other women has been brutally repressed by shock treatment and chemical injections.

Unbeknownst to Zoe, Eva is secretly working with the Greek Resistance through the local priest, Father Haralambros, providing forged travel documents to Jewish families so they can escape imprisonment and almost certain death in Nazi concentration camps. Their relationship also goes well beyond priest and collaborator, but Zoe is unaware of their secret connection.

When the Resistance’s activities against their German oppressors result in the deaths of German soldiers, the attacks are met with swift and brutal retribution. Major Hans Muller not only orders the execution of captured Greek fighters but local villagers. Cruel and sadistic, he takes pleasure in personally selecting and shooting the victims.  When he kills Zoe’s beloved mother, she swears revenge.

Zoe’s plans focus on killing Eva Muller whom she mistakenly believes laughed while Zoe held her dying mother in her arms. She doesn’t care whether she dies in the attempt as long as Eva dies along with her. She struggles with her faith knowing that suicide and murder are wrong. She denies God’s existence and questions how He could possibly allow the German occupation of her country and the atrocities committed against her family and her people.

Divine intervention intercedes when Father Haralambros arranges for Zoe to actually work in the Muller household as a caretaker to Eva. At first she can’t believe the irony,  but her hatred will eventually transform as she discovers who Eva really is, the physical and psychological trauma she has also endured at the hands of the Nazis, the courage it takes for her to defy them, her true relationship with Father Haralambros, and the emerging affection they both feel toward one another!

The title of the book comes from the Greek national anthem: And we saw thee sad-eyed, The tears on thy cheeks, While thy raiment was dyed In the Blood of the Greeks. It is the first in a series by Mary Brooks on Eva Muller and Zoe Lambros.

Readers, who enjoy strong female protagonists and an unlikely romance set against the backdrop of WWII and a part of that monumental struggle that isn’t often the focus of historical books, will enjoy this opening novel while looking forward to the continuing adventures of Eva and Zoe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Guns of August: My Review

Guns of August Book CoverAuthor Barbara W. Tuchman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1963 for The Guns of August. Fifty-five years later her book remains one of the best sources for understanding the prelude and first thirty days of what would become known as the Great War.

We are all familiar with the horrors of World War I – trench warfare, the ebb and flow of Allied and German advances across no man’s land using outdated tactics in the face of barbed wire, withering fire from machine guns and heavy artillery, and the inhuman use of mustard gas. Combat related casualty figures were a staggering 8.5 million killed and 21 million wounded. Civilian casualties exceeded six million from food shortages, malnutrition, and disease. The ensuing influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 even exceeded these figures with an estimated fifty million deaths worldwide.

How this conflagration began is the subject of Tuchman’s book. It suspends what the reader already knows about the war to focus on its genesis. Historians point to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as the event that lead to four years of slaughter, but this was but the excuse to launch the German Army (700,000 men) through neutral Belgium toward Paris. The Germans had put together a timetable for victory known as the Shclieffen plan that they began executing August 4, 1914. The two front battle plan had been developed and proposed by the chief of the German general staff as far back as 1905.

The French also had developed a plan to counter the German attack which was known as Plan XVII. Rather than rely on defense it envisioned a bold strike into the heart of Germany to recapture the territories of Alsace and Lorraine that had been lost in the Franco-Prussian War. It relied heavily on French courage rather than sound tactics. Mounted cavalry attacks and bayonet charges failed to take into account how warfare had changed.

The first twelve days of the war came to be known as the Battle of the Frontier. During this period it was all but certain that Germany would prevail. The next eighteen days would become known as the Miracle on the Marne with retreating allied forces regrouping and turning the tide. However, German forces had penetrated so deeply toward Paris that the war would drag on for four more years.

Tuchman recounts the momentous decisions that lead to the stalemate and the military commanders behind them. It is a testament to her ability to fully humanize these historical persons that we find ourselves fully immersed in the times and events, and learn what really happened as well as what it felt like for the people involved.

This is a great read for any historian or reader who seeks to understand history!