END OF THE BEGINNING
by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
At the end of Days of Infamy, the Japanese held the conquered Hawaiian islands with an iron hand, subjugating the Americans, Chinese, and native Hawaiians. As the sequel, End of the Beginning opens, Japan has a firm hold on the island and nearly all of the American characters are either held hostage or in similar restrained positions. Only the Japanese and their sympathizers, such as the fisherman Jiro Takahashi, have any sort of status, although luxury is far from anyone's mind.
As with many of Turtledove's novels, End of the Beginning is told from the points of view of numerous characters. Several Japanese and American soldiers, sailors, and marines are included, but so too are Hawaiian civilians, of Japanese, American and Hawaiian ancestry. None of them comes through the period covered in the book unscathed.
Turtledove's Japanese characters are brutal to the people of Hawaii, whether civilian or military. In the case of the military, the Japanese culture looks down on being captured and the Japanese soldiers do their best to work their captives to death. In the case of the civilians, the fact of their defeat is enough to make them subservient to the whims and needs of the Japanese.
However, Turtledove does not portray the Japanese as merely tyrannical brutes. By trying to get into the heads of several Japanese characters, from the pilot Shaburo Shindo to Commander Minoru Genda, Turtledove makes his Japanese come to life. Their brutality is part of their world view and completely expected. In fact, to not humiliate and denigrate the defeated would reflect badly on the characters and be unnatural and anachronistic.
End of the Beginning provides a good mix of a war story and the tales of everyday people. For those who are mostly interested in following the course of the war and the battles, Turtledove provides plenty of details as the United States ramps up for a counter offensive and the Japanese work to maintain their lengthy supply lines. For those who are more concerned with how the war affects individuals, there is the budding romance between the Japanese American Kenzo Takahashi and the American girl Elsie Sundberg or the carefree shenanigans of the surfers Charlie Kaapu and Oscar van der Kirk.
While Turtledove paints an excellent, if bleak, portrait of a Hawaii invaded by the Japanese, as the United States counter attack begins, the reader must wonder what the point is. If the United States regains the islands, will they be able to hold them, and, if so, how does the brief interlude of Japanese domination play out in the long run. If the Japanese fend off the United States, the work becomes much more interesting, but throughout the first half of the novel, Turtledove works to downplay any possibility of that realistically happening.
Days of Infamy provided a strong opening and although End of the Beginning mostly lives up to it, there are many unanswered questions about the individuals in the book and the broader themes of the World War. Although only labeled a duology, the ending of End of the Beginning (and the title, taken as it is from a Winston Churchill speech) cries out for at least one more book to help wrap up the lives of Turtledove's characters in the aftermath of the events he relates.
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