All That IsDe (autor) James Salter
en Limba Engleză Carte Paperback – 19 Jun 2014
All That Is explores a life unfolding in a world on the brink of change. The life is that of Philip Bowman and we see his formative experiences as a young naval officer in battles off Okinawa, his post-war career as a book editor in New York, his trips to the great European cities - for publishing parties in London, romantic holidays in Paris. But despite his success, what eludes him is love.
His first marriage goes bad, another fails to happen, finally he meets a woman who enthrals him before setting him on a course he could never imagine for himself. James Salter's dazzling, seductive and haunting novel offers a fiercely intimate account of the great shocks and grand pleasures of being alive.
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Dimensiuni: 131 x 197 x 25 mm
Greutate: 0.29 kg
Ediția: Main Market Ed.
Editura: Pan Macmillan
James Salter is the author of numerous books, including the novels Solo Faces, Light Years, A Sport and a Pastime, The Arm of Flesh (revised as Cassada), and The Hunters; the memoirs Gods of Tin and Burning the Days; the collections Dusk and Other Stories, which won the 1989 PEN/Faulkner Award, and Last Night, which won the Rea Award for the Short Story and the PEN/Malamud Award; and Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days, written with Kay Salter. He lives in New York and Colorado.
“Always an autobiographical writer, Salter here verges on the roman à clef; incidents, anecdotes, and people from his past are repurposed into mesmerizing fiction. . . . One feels the intensity of lived experience behind every line of All That Is. The facts may not reflect wie es eigentlich gewesen but the emotions are real, the events personally meaningful. Yet this is art too. Salter and his friends are not just transformed, they are transfigured, made radiant. . . . What makes this all so engaging is, first of all, Salter’s gravely serious, precise, and musical prose, the close attention to the diction and rhythms of every phrase and paragraph. Just a word or two and even a minor character springs to life. . . . Second, there is the book’s narrative architecture, the pleasing variousness of its scenes, chapters that might almost be short stories. . . . . Third, the book possesses, like virtually all of Salter’s work, a Japanese simplicity and purity of line. Nothing goes on too long. No one ever shouts. Hearts break and lives are broken, but Salter’s voice remains hushed, confiding, wise. Cheap art distracts, great art consoles. There is, however, a surprisingly strong extraliterary dimension to the book. . . . One can open to any page of Salter and find a striking image. . . . Salter, however, shouldn’t be appreciated just for his epigrammatic sentences. The opening chapter of All That Is may well be the best piece of sustained descriptive prose he has ever written. . . . After years of being ‘becalmed,’ Salter has now rightly come to be regarded as one of the great writers of his generation.” —Michael Dirda, The New York Review of Books
“A much-anticipated occasion . . . At 87, Salter is one of the last writers of his generation (he went to high school with William F. Buckley and Jack Kerouac), and All That Is is firmly rooted in midcentury America. There is a gauzy, drifting quality to both Bowman’s life and Salter’s style. . . . This technique creates an uneasy suspension of gravity and evanescence, a sense of Bowman’s life being at once deep and slight. All That Is seems to hint that though Philip Bowman is the protagonist, the book could have just as easily been about any of the other players, that all lives are of the same heft. This is the way of the world, of course. To ourselves, our story is meaningful, even profound. But to the sweep of time and humanity, we are largely incidental. Depending on your perspective, this is either a mere matter of fact or a deeply melancholic notion—and Salter plays it both ways. There are many erotic interludes. In Salter’s work, sex is a corporeal ecstasy and an existential salve. Though here, the carnal passages have a palpable sense of an older man’s nostalgia for the revelatory possibilities of sexual encounters. . . . As with Salter’s other books, All That Is presents such a cogent portrait of restive loneliness that one feels implicated just by reading it, as if one’s own life is also subject to his vision. That is, the book feels very true, even if the lives of the characters are quite different from our own.” —Brian Thomas Gallagher, The Seattle Times
“Salter’s tone combined with the post-World War II setting gives this work the feel of something from an earlier generation. With the ever-changing panorama of New York City and New York publishing as background, Salter addresses time, love, and the mystery and wonder of life itself.” —Lawrence Rungren, Library Journal
“Salter has been called ‘The Master’ . . . Bowman possesses an appreciation of his life as a kind of artistic experience unfolding only for him. . . . One of Salter’s great gifts is to allow his main characters to disappear gracefully into the universe of his books. Bowman’s life, like Salter’s, coincides almost perfectly with the rise of American power and the brief, golden era of publishing. All That Is is not only the story of Bowman’s life but also of almost every life with which his intersects, several even twice removed. . . . It’s in private moments that his prose is most effective at describing what it feels like to be alive. . . . This expansive novel is a worthy summation of his underappreciated writing life.” —Nicholas Mancusi, Newsday
“Salter [is] epicurean, a catalogist of earthly delights [with] a penchant for doting on details of luxuriousness. . . . He's often subtle, yet well versed in the appreciation of opulent surroundings. Here is an author who is known for lacing a magnanimous amount of detail into a paragraph without the clutter of unnecessary words. There lies a calm presence, a voice that embodies poetry. . . . Salter's brilliant economy of prose in sentences [is] utterly singular.” —Sabra Embury, Bookslut
“All That Is reads like [Salter’s] own particular bird’s-eye of the reality he believes in, cherishes, proffers to readers as worthy of transcription from ‘dream’ to immortality . . . a kind of impressionistic record of Salter’s memory—the people, places, emotions, perceptions, and anecdotes that have stuck, and have thus mattered. . . . Dear reader, here is reality, and a record of what has mattered. Fiction (character) and memory (author) dance together elegantly here, with a signature strangeness. . . . In All That Is, there is a compelling and beautiful dance between the foregrounding and backgrounding of characters, lives, narratives.” —Sonya Chung, The Millions
“Big in its ambitions, episodic in its structure, and written in prose deliberately lacking in ‘ecstatic lines,’ ‘showy’ sentences. It’s a sad, hopeful work that beautifully evokes the pleasures and disappointments of a life lived in books, relationships, America.” —Jonathan Lee, Guernica
“A meticulous stylist, the octogenarian [Salter] has a new novel, All That Is: a sexy, bittersweet story set in the New York publishing world after World War II.” —Los Angeles Times
“It’s tempting to view Salter’s latest as his ultimate statement on sex, war, art and other big themes that he’s chewed over for more than 50 years. The author avoids tidy summation. Like his classics, All That Is sprawls out in a sensuous dream state, framing life as a series of concentrated moments rather than a march toward meaning. . . . As in A Sport and a Pastime, the writer portrays sex—in his luminous, prose-poem style—as a supernatural force: consuming and even destructive, but also wondrous. . . . Here the author constructs a world of fascinating personalities to surround his leading man . . . Salter’s brief yet penetrating descriptions of these bit players lend All That Is a panoramic sweep; it chronicles a generation, not just a single life. Without resorting to meaning-of-it-all fuss, the book earns its grand title, reading like a humble keystone in one of the great bodies of work in contemporary American fiction.” — Hank Shteamer, Time Out New York
“Intimate, rueful and finely observed. It’s also an event: the first novel in 34 years from Salter.” —Jesse Dorris, Time
“Candidly piercing . . . swiftly acute . . . [a] novel inhabited by an implacable sense of fate. . . . Delicious.” —Ron Slate, On the Seawall
“Gorgeous . . . classic Salter: lithe, concrete, varied in rhythm, fluidly descriptive. . . . Salter’s masterful prose remains irrefutably engaged with the existential perception of life. . . . Elegantly written.” —Holloway McCandless, Shelf Awareness
“A crowning achievement. . . . If there were a Mount Rushmore for writers, [Salter] would be there already. . . . With the publication of All That Is, an ambitious departure from his previous work, Salter has demolished any talk of twilight. Moreover, this novel casts the last four decades in a completely new light, not coda but overture. The brilliantly compressed stories in which life is lit by lightning flash, the humane memoir that generously exalts, more than anything, the lineaments of ordinary existence—it’s all here, subsumed and assimilated in the service of a work that manages to be both recognizable (no one but Salter could have written it) and yet strikingly original, vigorous proof that this literary lion is still very much on the prowl. . . . Here, as always, this writer so at war with the obvious uncovers radiance in even the most melancholy circumstance, applying to it the same rigor he uses to scrutinize and dismiss any easy, conventional notions about heroism or the honorable life. . . . With his customary knack for scenes and characters chiseled with a stonecutter’s economy, Salter constructs Bowman’s world out of dozens of glistening miniatures, each bristling with life (actually the artist Salter most closely resembles is Degas, with his icy regard and discerning, sensual eye); and while there is a generous amount of carnality, the sex is always lyrically economical. What redeems Bowman—what gives him grace—are his unstinting capacity for watchfulness, and his embrace of memory as a bulwark against oblivion.” —Malcolm Jones, The New York Times Book Review
“Shimmering . . . intoxicating . . . Stands with [Salter’s] best work . . . All That Is (beautiful title) . . . is Salter’s most ambitious book and, aesthetically, it’s hard not to experience it as a summing-up. . . . Few can match Salter’s depictions of life’s physical pleasures, the sheer sensual delight of being in this world. [Salter’s] worldview, which comes as close to Epicureanism as one gets in American fiction, will always prove challenging. No matter. All That Is will last.” —Gregory Leon Miller, San Francisco Chronicle
“Salter remains a writer of tremendous ability. The opening chapter, set off Okinawa during the last days of World War II, is an absolute stunner.” —Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor
“[All That Is] more generally is a shockingly unostentatious [novel], its lack of flashiness is a thing to be savored and contemplated, not condemned. . . . Salter seems destined for the literary eons, a true American artist whose heyday of appreciation will someday come. . . . All That Is is to literature and publishing what Mad Men is to TV and advertising . . . complete with the sex and glamour and unvoiced inequality. Though Hemingway’s name frequently crops up alongside Salter’s, while the author of All That Is is no less masculine and incisive, he is far gentler, like a more expensive variety of bourbon. His novel has elegant prose [and] a marvelous, ominous lightness. . . . All That Is makes it clear that even its lengthiest episodes sill represent only a minute fraction of all that is: bittersweet surfaces, gentle, quick plunges into the infinite depth of a person, a moment, an era.” —Wyatt Miller, GALO Magazine
“Widely considered to be one of the finest prose stylists of his time, Salter’s novels, short stories, and memoirs are breathtakingly beautiful—and rare. Like comets and blue moons, a new Salter book is an event. All That Is, his long-awaited sixth novel, explores familiar Salter themes—honor, bravery, love, solitude—but, like all of Salter’s work, feels completely fresh and revelatory.” —Byliner
“James Salter is a brilliant writer . . . a true master of the written word. He’s perhaps among the greatest American writers alive today. . . . All That Is tells the story of the life and loves of Philip Bowman, a World War II veteran who spends a career in publishing. But what happens to Bowman—whom he loves, whom he loses—feels less important than the wisdom Salter leaves behind. . . . Lean, spare . . . Intensely beautiful.” —Associated Press
“Among many writers, and some literary people, [Salter] is venerated for his sentence-making, his observational power, his depictions of sex and valor, and a pair of novels that have more than a puncher’s chance at permanence. . . . Salter’s style is elliptical. The details and observations accrue in such a way—obliquely, melodiously—that they pull a reader forward in anticipation of the next unexpected leap: a stray object, an odd gesture, a bald declaration, or a rash act. He can be suddenly cruel. The syntax is cool, fine-hewn, rather than self-conscious or pyrotechnic. . . . [Salter] designed [All That Is] as a capstone, and, weary of his reputation as a stylist, tried in his way, to tell it all straight, [finding] absorption in a protagonist with, as he writes, a ‘life beyond reckoning, the life that had been opened to him and that he had owned.’ . . . You come away from his work wondering if you should have lived more, even if living more, in is work, often leads to ruin.” —Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker
“Breathtaking . . . The storytelling montage dazzles, magically marrying breadth and concision. . . . Salter has long been revered as a master whose chiseled sentences contain poetry and truth. . . . Now he has taken on his biggest canvas, following his characters across a half century. . . . Salter’s method here is a series of finely wrought miniatures . . . Salter has always been good on the rapture of love and great with honest, tart depictions of sex. He easily shows how lives consumed by passion can alter course in an instant. . . . Salter’s real intent is to show how [Bowman’s] life gets lived and how others—often by change—interact with it and change it. . . . Vividly sketched . . . With All That Is [he] delivers, with a romantic mosaic of lives led in those decades following the war when everything began to change. And he doesn’t let us forget—for even a paragraph—that before they are placed in a mosaic, each piece of tile or glass must be chosen, shaped and polished.” —John Barron, Chicago Tribune
“Exquisitely written . . . vividly rendered . . . Though an almost exact contemporary of Gass, Roth, Pynchon, and Updike, [Salter] writes like a contemporary of Styron and Mailer, determined to keep the torch of Ernest Hemingway ablaze in American prose (and not in a Raymond Carver or Richard Ford way either). Salter’s new novel is an exploration of gender misunderstandings that might have received sympathetic vibrations from Richard Yates. He writes like what he is, a former career soldier confident of the allure of a clean shave to the opposite sex.” —Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News (Editor’s Choice)
“A plaintive, impressionistic look at how we live in time, how little we ever understand about the amorphous shape of our own lives. . . . Salter shares many of Hemingway’s preoccupations: war, France, sumptuous food, and sex. . . . . . . A sense of nostalgia pervades the book, for not only youth but for a vanished world when ‘people still had family silver’ and publishers worked very closely with their authors. . . . [And] he offers a chillingly accurate gloss on literature’s increasingly marginal position . . . Magical.” —Lisa Zeidner, The Washington Post
“Salter is par excellence the explorer of depths, a diver seeking the hidden, vital wellsprings of our consciousness. . . . [He’s] done as much as any American writer to give us the sense of what it actually feels like to be alive and gripped by the fever of existence . . . [through] shimmering episodes of felt life.” —Chris Tucker, Dallas News
“Stunning . . . For Salter, writing is a sacred act . . . [He is] one of the finest prose stylists and most enviable American writers of the last half century. In All That Is, long-time fans will find a fitting addition to his canon, his powers still at full force . . . Salter is unparalleled in his ability to capture things like: the joy of beginning a love affair or the sad tawdriness of unwinding one; the satisfaction of finding something that feels right, even if it’s not quite what you’d had in mind; and the power of our minds to see things as we’d wish them to be. . . . A preoccupation with time and its passage, with decay, with small decisions that ripple down through decades and alter lives, has been in Salter’s work from the start. [Here is] a book, and a man, full of life and vigor . . . incisive, gracious, humble beyond reason, and relentlessly curious.” —Tim Sohn, GQ “Read of the Month”
“All That Is [is] the book of 2013—the book of the year, and I read it twice. It’s really brilliant, and very exciting.” —Maria Semple, Entertainment Weekly Shelf Life
“Salter plunges into the capricious world of book publishing, as WWII vet-turned-editor Philip Bowman navigates literary parties, author egos, and numerous affairs. Think Mad Men with more tweed. . . . The sentence-to-sentence craftsmanship is stunning, and Salter can still write a perfect love scene.” —Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
“Salter is an American treasure. . . . The way Salter writes sex is singular in contemporary American fiction—it’s both steamy and elegant . . . What Salter has going on under the covers makes this truly satisfying. The meandering mini-character sketches. The gorgeous vignettes. And the sentences—again, my God, the sentences! . . . Few things are more delightful in fiction than a great passage about books and the reading life, and Salter’s take on it made my heart sing.” —Greg Zimmerman and Rebecca Joines Schinksy, Book Riot
“A legendary writer . . . There is something about his prose, which blends lushness and classical restraint in the service of a wise, epicurean view of life, that calls me back to it. . . . In an era characterized by sex writing that defaults to irony and comic dysfunction, Salter restores that erotic experience to a kind of exalted, tantric level throughout his books (including this new one) that is simply hot. . . . The title strikes me as a kind of summational claim for the adequacy or the fullness of life as it’s lived, as opposed to another world or some metaphysical longing or longing for elsewhere.” —Thad Ziolkowski, Interview
“Magnificent . . . a major literary event. . . Here there is the pulse of life, the province of hope. Salter, who has the gift of writing sentences that exactly reproduce what we feel and think in the moment we feel and think it, moves beyond that incomparable skill and does something even more difficult: He gives us his heart. For all that, if you have never read Salter, don’t start with this book. Work up to it. . . . Sounds like a project? Oh no. Dear friend, I have just handed you a gift beyond price.” —Jesse Kornbluth, The Huffington Post
“[A] sweeping and lovely book steeped in the high drama of romance. . . . There is no plot in a conventional sense, but in another way it has the most resonant plot of all: the unspooling of a life. The book reads like a highly intimate biography in which the search for romance—and sex—plays a starring role Some of Bowman’s relationships come to brutal ends, but always they begin with seduction, and Salter never stints on bedroom scenes. . . . Salter still has the muscular authority and unembarrassed romanticism that can make a man sweat.” —Evan Hughes, GQ.com
“Striking . . . seamless . . . beautifully done. The experience of reading [All That Is] is akin to the panoramic view of flying, when aloft and moving fast. That is Salter’s point . . . we drift through life, this novel suggests, without ever really getting to know those around us. . . . Incisive.” —Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“In [Salter’s] care, the dust of the mundane is wiped away. Events resonate. Descriptions sparkle. Salter’s mastery is such that from the affecting and effective early scenes of protagonist Philip Bowman’s experiences off Okinawa during World War II, through all the twists and turns of a life played out in a rapidly changing America, nothing about this book disappoints. . . . As absorbing as the brief chapters on war are, the author’s scenes of seduction re equally realistic and memorable . . . In this book, he has rubbed words to a high sheen indeed.” —Stevie Godson, New York Journal of Books
“The best novel [I’ve] read in a long time. . . . All That Is is Salter’s version of a contemporary American War and Peace, with the war, World War II, in this instance, coming first. . . . Bowman’s life goads him to rise to the level of Shakespearian revenge. Reading and re-reading all this, I found myself in a state that Salter’s work—as with the finest writers we know—often induces. You breathe deeply and your pulse races. The sentences, the scenes, the life, the life.” —Alan Cheuse, NPR “All Things Considered”
“Salter’s writing is muscular, clear, accessible. . . With his fantastic new novel [he is] clearly at the top of his game. . . . All That Is contains a brilliant indictment of love, even as it revels in its sensual transports. Its hero, Philip Bowman . . . brings to the novel a rich, odd perspective, as if he is watching life down here from a very distant planet. He pins down the delusions of pressing human attachments, and examines how these attachments can be so urgent and so seemingly singular and so fleeting. It is perhaps not an accident that Salter would publish this very beautiful book at the age of 88. He senses the end in beginnings, applies the acquired wisdom of years, and the terrifying perspective of accumulated experiences, to the ordinary goings on the heart. . . . It is this sense of being outside of one’s own life, one’s own loves, of experiencing or remembering an entire marriage or relationship as ‘things glimpsed from a train’ that gives Salter’s work both its depth and its difficulty, its alarming insight and its grace. It’s this that should make him, finally, what he truly is: a reader’s writer.” —Katie Roiphe, Slate.com
“Exquisite. In widely admired novels, Salter’s great subject has been the often highly charged relations between men and women. His new novel, All That Is, revisits that subject in a mature, unsentimental story of one man’s restless search for love. That Salter is still producing work this appealing only two years from his 90th birthday makes it an even more impressive achievement. . . . Whether his setting is the Virginia horse country, a stylish dinner party in London or a Seville café, Salter writes with authority. And in painting those scenes, he captures the angst of the privileged classes who seem to have all anyone could desire, and yet long for something that lies just out of reach. Salter has long been lauded for his effortlessly beautiful prose and his deft characterization. Those talents are undiminished.” —Harvey Freedenberg, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“In All That Is, the sense of time passing is ever-present. It’s a panoramic book, an intimate epic that spans seven decades in the life of Philip Bowman . . . [The] more linear chronology [is] one in which time has a fluid, Proustian way of sneaking up on you . . . All That Is abounds with Salter’s signature vivid imagery. . . . And once again, there are unabashedly erotic scenes that border on the operatic—passages that may come as an outright shock to some . . . Salter [is] looking like the last exponent of a particular strain of 20th-century American fiction, deeply informed by the aspirations of postwar America; consumed by the triumphs and failings of middle-class life; navigating the tidal shift into postmodernism. . . . In his long and varied life, Salter has always been—perhaps this is the natural disposition of all great writers—something of an outsider: a Jew at West Point, a cult enthusiasm in the company of best-sellers, a New Yorker on the periphery of the Hollywood inner circle. But now he stands poised for a victory lap.” —Scott Foundas, The Village Voice
“[Salter] is a master of the sentence so vivid [that] it stuns. His sweeping new All That Is will refresh the canon of one of America’s best living writers.” —Chelsea Allison, Vogue.com
“Salter is one of the most celebrated living American writers, and after a seven-year hiatus he returns with possibly his best work yet.” —Steph Opitz, Marie Claire
“Highly decorated literary hero James Salter burnishes his reputation with All That Is.” —Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair “Hot Type”
“A masterpiece . . . I have learned from everything James Salter has written. In [him] I discovered not only an exquisite writer but a manner of living, found solace in the same way I imagined his characters [did]: Pay close enough attention to silver light on the ocean, to making love, to food, and all the rest is worth the trouble. In fact, these things are all we have. Salter is a writer for whom engagement with the physical world provides relief from life’s inherent sadness, disappointment and terror. Sex and food, sunlight and sea are all powerful contrasts to isolation, loneliness and the rapid passage of time, which is nearly audible in his fiction. No matter the horrors his characters endure—the sudden or gradual losses, the betrayals, the violence—there are always moments of ecstatic physical engagement, when time and memory seem to vanish, when there is nothing but the immediate and sacred present. . . [In] All That Is, he demonstrates the revelatory power of the physical experience, a counterpoint to pain. . . . If we have lived with the grace and passion of Salter, we are left looking out at the world—standing at a window, the way Bowman does, filled with ‘deep nostalgia,’ watching the snow fall over a place we love. And here, looking back on a life nearly ended, we maintain the intense desire to continue living, to stay longer, to keep swimming, and if we are fortunate, we are shaken and we are exultant, and we have what is recorded in novels, in short stories, in essays. For otherwise, everything will have been a dream.” —Alexander Maksik, Departures
“For decades, Salter has been an artistic standard-bearer. . . . Resonant passages bloom, including the one that captures the book’s subdued spirit: ‘The landscape was beautiful but passive. The emptiness of things rose like the sound of a choir making the sky bluer and more vast.’” —Donna Seaman, Booklist
“Achingly real . . . Salter renders the first blushes of Bowman’s loves exquisitely—their giddiness, occasional illicitness, eroticism—and his bewilderment after the relationships fail. . . . Salter punctuates his elegant prose with sharp, erotic punches.” —Publishers Weekly
“The best novel I’ve read in years. All That Is will be treasured by its readers. Salter’s vivid, lucid prose does exquisite justice to his subject—the relentless struggle to make good on our own humanity. Once again he has delivered to us a novel of the highest artistry.” —Tim O’Brien
“A consistently elegant and enjoyable novel, full of verve and wisdom.” —Julian Barnes
“Enthralling . . . A vividly imagined and beautifully written evocation of a postwar world.” —John Banville
“A beautiful novel, with sufficient love, heartbreak, vengeance, identity confusion, longing, and euphoria of language to have satisfied Shakespeare.” —John Irving
“This masterpiece is a smooth, absorbing narrative studded with bright particulars. If God is in the details, this book is divine.” —Edmund White
From the Hardcover edition.
Break of Day
All night in darkness the water sped past.
In tier on tier of iron bunks below deck, silent, six deep, lay hundreds of men, many face-up with their eyes still open though it was near morning. The lights were dimmed, the engines throbbing endlessly, the ventilators pulling in damp air, fifteen hundred men with their packs and weapons heavy enough to take them straight to the bottom, like an anvil dropped in the sea, part of a vast army sailing towards Okinawa, the great island that was just to the south of Japan. In truth, Okinawa was Japan, part of the homeland, strange and unknown. The war that had been going on for three and a half years was in its final act. In half an hour the first groups of men would file in for breakfast, standing as they ate, shoulder to shoulder, solemn, unspeaking. The ship was moving smoothly with faint sound. The steel of the hull creaked.
The war in the Pacific was not like the rest of it. The distances alone were enormous. There was nothing but days on end of empty sea and strange names of places, a thousand miles between them. It had been a war of many islands, of prying them from the Japanese, one by one. Guadalcanal, which became a legend. The Solomons and the Slot. Tarawa, where the landing craft ran aground on reefs far from shore and the men were slaughtered in enemy fire dense as bees, the horror of the beaches, swollen bodies lolling in the surf, the nation’s sons, some of them beautiful.
In the beginning with frightening speed the Japanese had overrun everything, all of the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, the Philippines. Great strongholds, deep fortifications known to be impregnable, were swept over in a matter of days. There had been only one counter stroke, the first great carrier battle in the middle of the Pacific, near Midway, where four irreplaceable Japanese carriers went down with all their planes and veteran crews. A staggering blow, but still the Japanese were relentless. Their grip on the Pacific would have to be broken finger by iron finger.
The battles were endless and unpitying, in dense jungle and heat. Near the shore, afterwards, the palms stood naked, like tall stakes, every leaf shot away. The enemy were savage fighters, the strange pagoda-like structures on their warships, their secret hissing language, their stockiness and ferocity. They did not surrender. They fought to the death. They executed prisoners with razor swords, two-handed swords raised high overhead, and they were merciless in victory, arms thrust aloft in mass triumph.
By 1944, the great, final stages had begun. Their object was to bring the Japanese homeland within range of heavy bombers. Saipan was the key. It was large and heavily defended. The Japanese army had not been defeated in battle, disregarding the outposts—New Guinea, the Gilberts, places such as that—for more than 350 years. There were twenty-five thousand Japanese troops on the island of Saipan commanded to yield nothing, not an inch of ground. In the order of earthly things, the defense of Saipan was deemed a matter of life and death.
In June, the invasion began. The Japanese had dangerous naval forces in the area, heavy cruisers and battleships. Two marine divisions went ashore and an army division followed.
It became, for the Japanese, the Saipan disaster. Twenty days later, nearly all of them had perished. The Japanese general and also Admiral Nagumo, who had commanded at Midway, committed suicide, and hundreds of civilians, men and women terrified of being slaughtered, some of them mothers holding babies in their arms, leapt from the steep cliffs to their death on the sharp rocks below.
It was the knell. The bombing of the main islands of Japan was now possible, and in the most massive of the raids, a firebombing of Tokyo, more than eighty thousand people died in the huge inferno in a single night.
Next, Iwo Jima fell. The Japanese pronounced an ultimate pledge: the death of a hundred million, the entire population, rather than surrender.
In the path of it lay Okinawa.
Day was rising, a pale Pacific dawn that had no real horizon with the tops of the early clouds gathering light. The sea was empty. Slowly the sun appeared, flooding across the water and turning it white. A lieutenant jg named Bowman had come on deck and was standing at the railing, looking out. His cabinmate, Kimmel, silently joined him. It was a day Bowman would never forget. Neither would any of them.
“Anything out there?”
“Not that you can see,” Kimmel said.
He looked forward, then aft.
“It’s too peaceful,” he said.
Bowman was navigation officer and also, he had learned just two days earlier, lookout officer.
“Sir,” he had asked, “what does that entail?”
“Here’s the manual,” the exec said. “Read it.”
He began that night, turning down the corner of certain pages as he read.
“What are you doing?” Kimmel asked.
“Don’t bother me right now.”
“What are you studying?”
“Jesus, we’re in the middle of enemy waters and you’re sitting there reading a manual? This is no time for that. You’re supposed to already know what to do.”
Bowman ignored him. They had been together from the beginning, since midshipman’s school, where the commandant, a navy captain whose career had collapsed when his destroyer ran aground, had a copy of A Message to Garcia, an inspirational text from the Spanish-American War, placed on every man’s bunk. Captain McCreary had no future but he remained loyal to the standards of the past. He drank himself into a stupor every night but was always crisp and well-shaved in the morning. He knew the book of navy regulations by heart and had bought the copies of A Message to Garcia with money from his own pocket. Bowman had read the Message carefully, years later he could still recite parts of it. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba—no one knew where . . . The point was simple: Do your duty fully and absolutely without unnecessary questions or excuses. Kimmel had cackled as he read it.
“Aye, aye, sir. Man the guns!”
He was dark-haired and skinny and walked with a loose gait that made him seem long-legged. His uniform always looked somehow slept in. His neck was too thin for his collar. The crew, among themselves, called him the Camel, but he had a playboy’s aplomb and women liked him. In San Diego he had taken up with a lively girl named Vicky whose father owned a car dealership, Palmetto Ford. She had blond hair, pulled back, and a touch of daring. She was drawn to Kimmel immediately, his indolent glamour. In the hotel room that he had gotten with two other officers and where, he explained, they would be away from the noise of the bar, they sat drinking Canadian Club and Coke.
“How did it happen?” he asked.
“How did what happen?”
“My meeting someone like you.”
“You certainly didn’t deserve it,” she said.
“It was fate,” he said.
She sipped her drink.
“Fate. So, am I going to marry you?”
“Jesus, are we there already? I’m not old enough to get married.”
“You’d probably only deceive me about ten times in the first year,” she said.
“I’d never deceive you.”
She knew exactly what he was like, but she would change that. She liked his laugh. He’d have to meet her father first, she commented.
“I’d love to meet your father,” Kimmel answered in seeming earnestness. “Have you told him about us?”
“Do you think I’m crazy? He’d kill me.”
“What do you mean? For what?”
“For getting pregnant.”
“You’re pregnant?” Kimmel said, alarmed.
Vicky Hollins in her silk dress, the glances clinging to her as she passed. In heels she wasn’t that short. She liked to call herself by her last name. It’s Hollins, she would announce on the phone.
They were shipping out, that was what made it all real or a form of real.
“Who knows if we’ll get back,” he said casually.
Her letters had come in the two sackfuls of mail that Bowman had brought back from Leyte. He’d been sent there by the exec to try and find the ship’s mail at the Fleet Post Office—they’d had none for ten days—and he had flown back with it, triumphant, in a TBM. Kimmel read parts of her letters aloud for the benefit, especially, of Brownell, the third man in the cabin. Brownell was intense and morally pure, with a knotted jaw that had traces of acne. Kimmel liked to bait him. He sniffed at a page of the letter. Yeah, that was her perfume, he said, he’d recognize it anywhere.
“And maybe something else,” he speculated. “I wonder. You think she might have rubbed it against her . . . Here,” he said, offering it to Brownell, “tell me what you think.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Brownell said uneasily. The knots in his jaw showed.
“Oh, sure you would, an old pussy hound like you.”
“Don’t try and involve me in your lechery,” Brownell said.
“It’s not lechery, she’s writing to me because we fell in love. It’s something beautiful and pure.”
“How would you know?”
Brownell was reading The Prophet.
“The Prophet. What’s that?” Kimmel said. “Let me see it. What does it do, tell us what’s going to happen?”
Brownell didn’t answer.
The letters were less exciting than a page filled with feminine handwriting would suggest. Vicky was a talker and her letters were a detailed and somewhat repetitive account of her life, which consisted in part of going back to all the places she and Kimmel had been to, usually in the company of Susu, her closest friend, and also in the company of other young naval officers, but thinking always of Kimmel. The bartender remembered them, she said, a fabulous couple. Her closings were always a line from a popular song. I didn’t want to do it, she wrote.
Bowman had no girlfriend, faithful or otherwise. He’d had no experience of love but was reluctant to admit it. He simply let the subject pass when women were discussed and acted as though Kimmel’s dazzling affair was more or less familiar ground to him. His life was the ship and his duties aboard. He felt loyalty to it and to a tradition that he respected, and he felt a certain pride when the captain or exec called out, “Mr. Bowman!” He liked their reliance, offhanded though it might be, on him.
He was diligent. He had blue eyes and brown hair combed back. He’d been diligent in school. Miss Crowley had drawn him aside after class and told him he had the makings of a fine Latinist, but if she could see him now in his uniform and sea-tarnished insignia, she would have been very impressed. From the time he and Kimmel had joined the ship at Ulithi, he felt he had performed well.
How he would behave in action was weighing on his mind that morning as they stood looking out at the mysterious, foreign sea and then at the sky that was already becoming brighter. Courage and fear and how you would act under fire were not among the things you talked about. You hoped, when the time came, that you would be able to do as expected. He had faith, if not complete, in himself, then in the leadership, the seasoned names that guided the fleet. Once, in the distance he had seen, low and swift-moving, the camouflaged flagship, the New Jersey, with Halsey aboard. It was like seeing, from afar, the Emperor at Ratisbon. He felt a kind of pride, even fulfillment. It was enough.
The real danger would come from the sky, the suicide attacks, the kamikaze—the word meant “divine wind,” the heaven-sent storms that had saved Japan from the invasion fleet of Kublai Khan centuries before. This was the same intervention from on high, this time by bomb-laden planes flying directly into the enemy ships, their pilots dying in the act.
The first such attack had been in the Philippines a few months earlier. A Japanese plane dove into a heavy cruiser and exploded, killing the captain and many more. From then on the attacks multiplied. The Japanese would come in irregular groups, appearing suddenly. Men watched with almost hypnotic fascination and fear as they came straight down towards them through dense antiaircraft fire or swept in low, skimming the water. To defend Okinawa the Japanese had planned to launch the greatest kamikaze assault of all. The loss of ships would be so heavy that the invasion would be driven back and destroyed. It was not just a dream. The outcome of great battles could hinge on resolve.
Through the morning, though, there was nothing. The swells rose and slid past, some bursting white, spooling out and breaking backwards. There was a deck of clouds. Beneath, the sky was bright.
The first warning of enemy planes came in a call from the bridge, and Bowman was running to his cabin to get his life jacket when the alarm for General Quarters sounded, overwhelming everything else, and he passed Kimmel in a helmet that looked too big for him racing up the steel steps crying, “This is it! This is it!” The firing had started and every gun on the ship and on those nearby took it up. The sound was deafening. Swarms of antiaircraft fire were floating upwards amid dark puffs. On the bridge the captain was hitting the helmsman on the arm to get him to listen. Men were still getting to their stations. It was all happening at two speeds, the noise and desperate haste of action and also at a lesser speed, that of fate, with dark specks in the sky moving through the gunfire. They were distant and it seemed the firing could not reach them when suddenly something else began, within the din a single dark plane was coming down and like a blind insect, unerring, turning towards them, red insignia on its wings and a shining black cowling. Every gun on the ship was firing and the seconds were collapsing into one another. Then with a huge explosion and geyser of water the ship lurched sideways beneath their feet—the plane had hit them or just alongside. In the smoke and confusion no one knew.
It was Kimmel who, thinking the magazine amidship had been hit, had jumped. The noise was still terrific, they were firing at everything. In the wake of the ship and trying to swim amid the great swells and pieces of wreckage, Kimmel was vanishing from sight. They could not stop or turn back for him. He would have drowned but miraculously he was seen and picked up by a destroyer that was almost immediately sunk by another kamikaze and the crew rescued by a second destroyer that, barely an hour later, was razed to the waterline. Kimmel ended up in a naval hospital. He became a kind of legend. He’d jumped off his ship by mistake and in one day had seen more action than the rest of them would see in the entire war. Afterwards, Bowman lost track of him. Several times over the years he tried to locate him in Chicago but without any luck. More than thirty ships were sunk that day. It was the greatest ordeal of the fleet during the war.