Thursday, September 26, 2019

September's Book: Days of Infamy

Days of Infamy by Harry Turtledove
Alternate History (2004 - 520 pp.)

Days of Infamy is the first book in Harry Turtledove's duology* about what could have happened if the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had turned into an all-out amphibious invasion. The book, therefore, alternates between various Japanese occupiers, American soldiers and American civilians. The events all occur on Hawaii except for the opening in Tokyo and the sections featuring Joe Crosetti, an Italian-American cadet living in San Francisco and training in Pensacola. As is commonplace on this blog, the Book One Effect is in full swing. However, there are only two books in the Days of Infamy series, so a quick follow-up read of End of the Beginning (2005) should be easy.

Days of Infamy starts the way history actually went: with Isoroku Yamamoto and Minoru Genda planning the Pearl Harbor attack. (1-5) Turtledove's combination of real-life figures and fictional-but-believable characters brings the reader right into the events, as if existing as a fly on the wall.** From there, the modified Pearl Harbor is 40-50 pages of action and suspense, sure to liven the heart of any Axis & Allies player. Then, of course, there's how people react to the sudden and unexpected Japanese occupation of Hawaii. One example is Oscar van der Kirk, an American transplant turned beach bum, who is a surfer who invents sailboarding in this timeline; his full story is too entertaining to be repeated.

Joe's world goes back and forth between the excitement he feels at training and the devastation he feels when his relatives die in a bombing raid. When he is bussed off to training as an aviator, he quickly meets his new roommate, Orson Sharp, a Mormon from Utah. Sharp is used to snow, but it's bizarre to Crosetti. (192)

Meanwhile, American military officers suffer, and anyone close to them suffers too. Fletcher Armitage is a high-ranking officer who becomes a POW, shortly after his separation from his wife Jane. Jane's fate is no better, as she ends up being coerced by the occupying Japanese authorities into mending a of turnips and potatoes. (234) Similarly, Lieutenant Jim Peterson ransfers from the Navy to the Army, which costs him epaulets. The book assumes Admiral Halsey dies during the initial raid, which leads to chaos.

The book's emotional high comes near the end, when the occupation is complete. Kenzo is a late-teenage-aged Japanese-American whose father is in favour of the occupation, but he and his brother are staunchly American. Kenzo dates Elsie Sundberg, an American. Kenzo can't make sense of the occupation, a sentiment that is surely echoed through many occupations past:
Then he looked west, toward Pearl Harbor. No, no fireworks tonight. The U.S. Navy was gone from these parts. Everything else that had to do with the United States seemed gone, too. So where was there a place for a person of Japanese blood who thought he had the right to be an American? Anywhere at all? (510-511)
Confusingly, there is another book called Days of Infamy that is, as well, an alternate history about the Empire of Japan conquering Hawaii in the time following Pearl Harbor. It is the second book in its series. It came out in 2008, well after Harry Turtledove's book hit the market. This is why you Google your proposed book titles before you write, folks.*** This second Days of Infamy was written in part by Newt Gingrich. I don't usually give Newt Gingrich unsolicited advice online, but when I do, it's apparently about searching book titles.

Ease of Reading: 7
Educational Content: 4

*So few book series are exactly two books that "duology" is an uncommon word. To wit: "trilogy" yields 168 million Google search results, whereas "duology" yields only 1.49 million.

**Turtledove has a tendency to use "as if" to introduce a simile, as in "he laughed, as if hearing a joke". He also has his characters frequently say clich├ęs in order to evoke the time and place. Whether these are faults is subjective.

***The musical equivalent is "Google your song titles before you write your choruses". Arguably the most notable example is British power metal band DragonForce releasing the song "Die by the Sword" in 2012, a full 29 years after the classic Slayer song of the same name. One would think the DragonForce song was a cover, but alas, it is not.

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