Thursday, March 8, 2018

Book Reviews Reloaded: The Wind Is Not A River

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on October 14, 2014. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

The Wind is Not a River - Brian Payton
Ecco Publishing
320 Pages

I would like to start off by saying that I like to read...a lot. I generally read 2 or 3 books a week, and it seems like all the librarians at the Lockport Public Library know me on sight. I always head directly to the “New Releases” by the circulation desk to catch the latest and greatest by authors both established and new. I hope to be able to bring a few reviews to you each month on some of these new releases.

I just finished The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton. While this one came out back in January, it took quite awhile for it to become available at the library. Apparently, several other readers also felt it quite worthy to read. I can assure you that it was worth the wait.

This historical-fiction novel is set during World War II in Seattle and Attu Island in the Aleutian chain of Alaska. In a largely forgotten aspect of the war, the Japanese had invaded Attu, making it the only incursion of enemy forces on American soil. At the time, the US Government sheltered the news of this invasion from the general public, instead choosing to focus on the mounting victories in North Africa and Italy. With this obscurity, Payton was given the freedom to weave a tale that, while fiction, also captured the spirit of this turbulent time in our history.

The story centers around dual main characters. John and Helen are a husband and wife who are torn apart by the war waging so close to home. John, a journalist by trade, feels it is his duty to report on the war after his younger brother, Warren is killed in Europe. He volunteers to jump into the front lines of a Japanese invasion of Alaska, although US leaders have forbidden the media to enter or report from the Aleutians. Unfortunately, John’s plane is shot down and only he and one other man survive the crash, stuck behind enemy lines.

Meanwhile, back at home in Seattle, Helen realizes that she and John did not part on the greatest of terms. When she learns that her husband is missing, she leaves behind the comfort of home to join a USO tour, hoping to inch closer to John as well as maybe learn more information about the downed plane. Although she has had no training in song and dance, she finds herself assigned to a troupe heading to Juneau. She discovers very quickly that people are not as genuine as they appear. Her sheltered life has not prepared her for the rest of the world, especially the ways of soldiers away from home and loved ones for so very long.

The story is told through a series of snapshots, rather than a long narrative. Each chapter separates the narratives of John and Helen. As John’s time behind enemy lines hiding from the Japanese grows, his narratives become shorter and more hurried. His story becomes more frantic as the likelihood of discovery grows and the chance of rescue lessens. Meanwhile, Helen’s character grows with her story as she leaves behind all she has ever known and discovers more of the ways of the world.

The Wind is Not a River is a fantastic book, well worth the 300 pages. I read it in a single day, eager to find out whether John and Helen ever find each other again (I’m not telling. You’re going to have to read it yourself.) It combines history in a very realistic way with the fictional narrative of two people who represent the struggles felt by every couple in every war. Brian Payton engages the reader with sympathetic characters. These characters make you want to rush to the end to make sure everything turns out okay. Of course, like real life, there are many bumps along the way.

Craig Bacon reads a lot of books. He hopes to keep reviewing them for as long as people keep reading them.