James A. Michener – Tales of the South Pacific

51rHgSUDZYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I have an interview today at 11:15 am, for a job that I am not sure that I want. When I woke up this morning, I put on a pot of coffee and jumped in the shower listening to WBEZ, our local Chicago public radio station, to the warnings of doom and despair that seem all too accessible these days. There is the loom debt-ceiling debate which comes amid our already ‘shutdown’ government issues. The ramifications are being felt throughout the nation as to public places being closed due to the federal government’s closure of such places. No matter what side of these debates you are on, we are in uncertain waters as a nation. As has happened in many times throughout this project, I seem to find the right book at the right time. This may be slightly revisionist of me. I finished Michener’s 1948 winner, Tales of the South Pacific, just in time to write this review and get ready for this interview. I think this book was the right one to read now because its purpose to capture a moment in America’s history when we fought for something. I don’t know if I really buy in at that level, but I was glad to be reminded of those things. It isn’t an especially patriotic novel to the level of One of Ours by Willa Cather’s ending was, but I was taken with the way America influenced the South Pacific.

Michener’s work is the best book I have read about World War 2. That is not saying much because I believe it is the one of two fictionalized accounts I believe I have ever read about World War 2. I have read more fictionalized accounts about World War 1 than I have about World War 2. The other account of WW2 was The Caine Mutiny which was a clever book, but I did not feel as engaged by it as I did with Michener’s book. Both books seem to revolve around a very consistent theme in war writing which is the drudgery of war which I think both books get right. The one difference in tone between the two books which Michener includes throughout but hammers home at the end is the seeming ‘meaninglessness’ of war. I do not believe that Michener actually feels this way, but there are certain ways that things go in war that add a layer of confusion and nonsense that produce in the characters an element of absurdity to them which I think that Michener is masterful in creating for his reader. Both writers do fall into the trap of sentimentality that I think is rife with the World War 2 films I have seen.

Michener is a great writer with an incredible eye for minute details that let you inside of a situation that is very foreign to the reader. The only thing that Michener could not forsee in his writing of this book was that years from his events, some of the crucial details of his characters lives and duties in this war in particular would be very foreign to the rest of readers of my era and beyond. Michener wrote about the most important event of the 20th century and everyone who would have read this book published only 3 years after the official end of the European conflict would have understood all of his details completely. I am a person as well-versed in military lingo as a civilian can be as I have many, many members (mom, dad, two brothers, and cousins) that have been in active duty in all branches. That being said, there are things that Michener takes for granted as is completely reasonable that I had to look up like SeaBees for example (look it up). Other than that, which is a very forgivable mistake, Michener drones on and on about seemingly minute plot points and rushes past the ones I was interested in. I do not know why he did this, but at times it was frustrating. In addition to that, Michener uses very cliche language at times which I thought was ironically humorous which I do not think was his initial point. But finally, it was a good book. I enjoyed living with these characters. They were rich and conflicted. They were scared and anxious, and they were brave. It was a moving tale of war, and I am grateful for having read it. I was surprised at the level of sexuality in this book for a book written in 1948, it was not overtly explicit but definitely well-documented throughout. I give it a hard PG-13 on that level. I found this book, although cliche at times, surprisingly contemporary with some of the newer winners. I did not expect that and I was pleasantly surprised.

I have no idea how this book was turned into a musical, and I have no compulsion to see the musical. I was put off at first from reading this novel because I thought it was going to be a melodramatic, sappy, ‘musical’-y, retelling of a horrifying endeavor in the South Pacific. This novel was not any of those things. It is true, gritty (at times), and well-told tales.


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