The story begins in 1939. Winds of War, though only the first half of the saga of the Henry/Jastrow family, is a beautiful history, and excellent introduction into World War II. The Characters are sometimes frustrating. Many times, those that we should be sympathetic towards are one that we end up hating. Perhaps this was Wouk’s intent. Beginning with the Invasion of Poland, the story unfolds to give show America’s indifference in the early days only to their wheeling and dealing behind the scenes to assist with the Allies.
The battles the book covers are, of course, the invasion of Poland, the Battle of Britain, the breaking of the German-Soviet Pact, and the attack on Pearl Harbor. It also discusses Lend-Lease.
The sequel, War and Remembrance, opens with an Author’s Note that says that both books are intended to be read together, but that they can be read independently. Despite Wouk’s assurance to the contrary, there are so many things alluded to in the story from its predecessor that difficult to imagine reading this without having read the other.
As with Winds, the characters we are meant to feel sorry for are often ones we feel great anger towards. Many of their predicaments are of their own making. A real life example is the boy who is told to come straight home from school, but, instead, makes a detour. On his way, he is kidnapped, then murdered. It’s tragic, but it was a tragedy of his own making.
The battles this book covers are many. Here are but a few: Stalingrad, Midway, Tassafaronga, and Leyte Gulf. Most importantly, this book details the beginnings of the final solution in Oswiecim (Auschwitz) and the history of Theresienstadt. Whenever the characters refer to Auschwitz (the German name), it is always by the proper Polish name of Oswiecim (for a good history on the camp, I recommend this book).
There are times in these romances, for that is really what they are, that Wouk brings the readers into the minds of the characters through journal entries and letters. This helps to enforce the brutality of the story. Even more so when we keep in mind that there are people alive who still remember the conditions of which Wouk wrote about, both those who suffered under them, and those who committed the atrocities. These are important pieces of literature, and they must be read as a whole to be fully appreciated.