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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, November 9, 2008

NOVELS PROVIDE GLIMPSE OF NATION, WORLD AT WAR

Tuesday, November 11 is the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day, marking the date in 1918 when a pact between the Allies and Germany ended war on the western front.
"Heroes Trees" are currently on display at each of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library locations, in honor of service members in past and present wars and conflicts. We are joining other libraries throughout the state in this project put together by Purdue University's Military Family Research Institute.


During October, we invited customers to bring in a small photo and brief biographical sketch of a service member in their family. These mounted photos will decorate the Heroes Trees, with notebooks detailing the specifics.


Hundreds of novels are set during the wars of the past 100 years. Here are four recent ones.
"The Given Day" by Dennis Lehane (Morrow, 2008). Lehane has written numerous popular mysteries, including "Mystic River," but he has now penned a rousing epic set late in WWI in Boston. Reminiscent of E. L. Doctorow in "Ragtime," he peoples his work with historical figures, including Boston Red Sox hitter Babe Ruth, Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, NAACP founder W. E. B. DuBois, and John (Edgar) Hoover.


Nationally, as well as internationally, racism, unionism, socialism, extremism, and capitalism were all sharing the stage. "Any Given Day" ends with the Boston Police Strike and its aftermath.
"The Man with the Iron Heart" by Harry Turtledove (Ballantine, 2008). Turtledove writes alternate histories - in other words, what would have happened if…. The subtitle of this novel explains it best: "What if a brilliant Nazi strategist survived to orchestrate a deadly guerilla resistance that extended WWII?"


The author posits a wave of suicide bombings abroad accompanied by an increasingly strident and ill-advised anti-war movement at home. One wonders if he is writing about WWII or expressing his opinions on the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.


"Tree of Smoke" by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). Johnson won the National Book Award for this searing novel about the Vietnamese War. In a hellish scenario similar to that in "Apocalypse Now," a young CIA agent wanders about South Vietnam witnessing and participating in atrocities on both sides.


There are no easy answers in this book, just questions. But one is left with a overwhelming sadness both for our young soldiers dropped into a hostile environment and the people they were there to destroy.


"Body of Lies" by David Ignatius (Norton, 2007). This is a quick and thrilling read, but if you don't have time, catch the new action movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. It's set in contemporary Jordan and features two CIA operatives who attempt to lay a trap for a terrorist mastermind. There are enough crosses and double-crosses to keep one guessing until the very end.
Ignatius is an award-winning "Washington Post" columnist who has covered the CIA and the Middle East for 25 years. This is his fifth political thriller.

IF YOU GO: Heroes Trees at all Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library
Through Wednesday, November 26