Tag: World War 2

New York Station Book Review

Book cover of New York Station and poster of Saratoga racetrack.
New York Station takes place in and around Saratoga Springs.

New York Station by Lawrence Dudley is the perfect example of a writer using current events for inspiration. Recently I have read several books involving fixed elections. New York Station is the best of those. Perhaps the fact the book uses an election prior to the United States’ entry into the Second World War plays a part in my enjoyment. I like historical fiction.

Roy Hawkins is the central character in New York Station. He is half American and half British. Hawkins is a spy for the Brits and the opening scene place him in Paris as the Germans roll in. The main purpose for this setting is to give the character a position in the war as a contrast to the many isolationists later introduced in the book.

The novel’s move to New York establishes Dudley’s point of view. The writing entertains, but I believe the author is also using New York Station as a vehicle to present a case against neutrality. The plot is well-developed and based on fact. A populist movement of non-intervention divided America in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. There are parallels to current events and the author shares those in a subtle way. This is one of the best attributes of the book. Lawrence Dudley definitely has his point of view. He makes his case, but in a way that does not ruin the story.

The action takes place in the summer of 1940. The Nazi’s are trying to rig the Presidential election. Furthermore, the German’s are actively engaging in espionage. Apparently, the United States did not have an organization to track spies at this point in time. Far right leaning activists are also featured. The picture painted has some similarities to the 2016 election. Outside forces want to influence the election process so integral to America’s core belief system. In New York Station much of the scheme is foiled.

Added to the intrigue is a bit of romance and gambling. Hawkins falls for a New York socialite Daisy Van Schenck. Daisy needs money to shore up family losses. The Van Schenck’s did not weather the Great Depression well. Daisy has rented her mansion to the Nazi Party for fundraising purposes. The event does not end well and triggers quite a bit of violence.

Saratoga Springs

Much of the action takes place in and around Saratoga Springs, New York. The racetrack plays a part in the story. Part of the plot revolves around a sure bet. Sure because of cheating. Since New York Station is historical in nature, there is plausibility in the sure bet. Today a sure bet is far more difficult because of racetrack testing.. This is the first scene showing conflict within the lead character.

Hawkins struggles with the violence that occurs, justifying often that the end goal takes precedence. There is some conflict of loyalty, although he seems much more British than American. The author makes good use of secondary characters to shape the actions of his main character.

I found New York Station quite entertaining. The snapshot of Saratoga Springs was quite different from my small experiences with the area. Perhaps the historical angle is responsible or perhaps my point of view differs from the author. However, I believe Dudley has written a book that is thought provoking. When is it okay to stay on the sidelines? How does one know when to take a stance? Does the end justify the means? This is shown through the actions of the characters and is well done. I highly recommend you read New York Station.

We Band of Angels

We Band of Angels Book Review 

While my favorite source for reading material is my local public library, it is by no means my only source. I also frequent book sales and used book stores. One of these was my source for the book We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese. This is a well written and documented history of female nurses trapped in the Philippines at the beginning of World War II.

Quite a few things stand out after reading Elizabeth M. Norman’s We Band of Angels. First, the incredible hardship faced by the nurses, troops and others caught by the Japanese. Even though all the nurses survived, they endured much. Shortly after their bases were bombed, the nurses followed the troops into the jungle. They struggled to operate in the war theatre. Bombs were not just nearby but also hit the makeshift hospitals. As the military retreated, so did the nurses. Eventually, the Americans surrendered.

We Band of Angels: Prisoners of War

Second, the survival after surrender stemmed in great part by the discipline and organization of the commanding officers. The nurses ended up spread apart as P.O.W’s (Prisoners of War). The majority spent over three years living in Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manilla. In addition to manning the camp hospital, nurses sewed and worked plots of garden. Before liberation, all internees were living on well under 1000 calories a day. One meal served per day. Scurvy and beriberi led the malnutrition diseases. But a host of maladies from measles to dysentery to whooping-cough took a toll as well. The nurses, weak themselves from hunger, stayed on the job.

Finally, the appreciation by the nurses of a sunset or the stars resonated with me. Throughout unfathomable conditions this appreciation of nature kept many going. Material goods were gone, they were all starving and sick but they still appreciated the wonders of the Earth. In fact, the natural wonders may have kept them sane.

Contrast in Treatment

The contrast between the internment camps run by the Japanese and my knowledge of both Relocation Centers and the handful of U.S. based P.O.W camps is stark. Admittedly, the relocation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast to interior camps is not parallel. The nurses depicted in Norman’s We Band of Angels were caught behind enemy lines. The thousands of Japanese Americans interned were taken from their homes, American homes. The situation with the mostly German P.O.W.s is a more direct comparison. But in both the case of relocation and the enemy soldiers, neither group faced starvation. In fact in some cases individuals were granted day passes to leave the camps. Furthermore, the internees of Camp Amache outside of Granada, Colorado produced a surplus of food.

National Museum

A few years ago I spent a few hours in the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. This museum is one of the best in the country. When I return to New Orleans in March I plan to revisit the museum and discover more information about the nurses in We Band of Angels. Elizabeth M. Norman did an excellent job of piquing my interest in this chapter of military history. If you would like to read the book, it has recently been reprinted and can be found through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.