When I recently picked up my copy of The Winds of War, Herman Wouk’s sprawling 1971 saga of the early years of World War II, I was shocked to see my bookmark not yet halfway through the book’s 1,047 pages…but the summer is more than half over! Still, I’m determined to finish this tome and to live-blog until the end, however long that takes. I’ve been utterly swamped with academic work recently so that accounts for the slowness. And to think, I was going to read still another book after this one! Oh well, you do what you can do. By now you know the drill. Wine suggestions come courtesy of Michelle Williams and her amazing and tasty RockinRed Blog. This week’s segment was a bit harder to match but as you’ll see she came through quite well, as usual. So, let’s get back to the battlefront.
In the last update, Wouk used the “Sitzkrieg”–the sitting war or Phony War of the winter of 1939-40–to update us on some character business, which chiefly involved Byron proposing to Natalie. Inexplicably Byron remains in Europe working at the Siena villa of Dr. Aaron Jastrow, while Natalie tends her sick father in Miami Beach. On April 4, 1940, the Sitzkrieg ends with the German invasion of Norway. When it’s announced on the radio it literally gives Natalie’s father a heart attack. Wouk then compresses the next month with another chapter from the imaginary German war memoir World Empire Lost, in which the fictional general Armin von Roon talks about the German invasion of France and the Low Countries. Most of us know this story: the Germans attacked quickly and in force, the French with their Maginot Line were trying to fight the last war, and Hitler soon had them on the run. As this is happening the action shifts back to the United States.
One of the most iconic photos of World War II: a Frenchman weeps at the departure of the last free French troops, leaving his country to German domination.
The Henry family has gathered in New York just before the wedding of Warren, Pug’s son (Byron’s brother) who’s a Navy aviator, to Janice Lacouture, the daughter of an influential Congressman who happens to be a strict isolationist. For some reason Wouk throws Palmer Kirby into this mix. Kirby is a business tycoon who back in Berlin had an affair with Pug’s wife, Rhoda. We readers know this, but Pug is completely dense about it. You want to shout through the page, “WAKE UP, MAN! YOUR WIFE IS DIDDLING PALMER KIRBY! EVERYONE KNOWS IT!” Pug is supposed to be bright and incisive, but he’s a bit of a dunce when it comes to his marriage. We (the readers) know he’s cruising for an epic bruising, which of course will happen at the worst possible time (*cough*Pearl Harbor*cough*). Anyway, that’s beside the point.
There’s a perfectly delightful scene set in Kirby’s suite at the Waldorf-Astoria where the family is listening to Winston Churchill, newly-elected Prime Minister of Great Britain, give his inaugural speech over the radio. This is just before a family dinner. Churchill’s speech was the famous promise “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” I love this scene because in my mind’s eye I can really see what a Manhattan hotel suite looked like in 1940 and I can almost hear Churchill’s slurry words–“almost like a drunken man,” Wouk describes him–crackling over an old radio. I lose myself in this scene every time I read it.
Winston Churchill’s amazing speech of May 13, 1940 was one of the most memorable speeches of the war years, and contains the famous “blood, toil, tears and sweat” line.
The family splits temporarily. Byron dashes down to Miami to be with Natalie. After a rollicking afternoon of making love on a charter boat, Natalie agrees to marry him. Just then the boat driver tells Byron that his father is waiting back on the dock. Sure enough, Pug is there. In a restaurant the Navy patriarch high-pressures Byron into agreeing to join the U.S. Navy’s submarine school right after the wedding–the events in Europe have caused the military to speed up its training programs and he has to go right away. We don’t know it yet but the whole rest of the plot hinges on this scene. It’s the reason why Natalie decides, as long as Byron is in sub school, she’ll go back to Italy to get her uncle out. The machinery of plot turns without much subtlety here, but at least it’s a good scene.
Warren’s wedding happens in Pensacola, just as France is falling. Natalie’s invited but she feels very out-of-place, especially as the family drives to the airport in an open convertible, guzzling champagne and singing Christian hymns (she’s Jewish), before they scatter to the winds possibly for the duration of the conflict. Indeed the next few chapters show the characters scattering: Byron to submarine school in Connecticut, Warren to the Pacific Fleet, Natalie to Lisbon (as she tries to get to Italy), and Pug to a series of official Navy errands which eventually land him in London. What, ho, isn’t London where Pamela Tudsbury is? In case you forgot, she’s the daughter of the British war correspondent whom Pug met on the Bremen in the first part of the book. There was obviously an attraction between them. Oh, and it’s now the summer of 1940. You don’t suppose they’re going to have a little wartime romance while Luftwaffe bombs rain down on old Blighty, do you? That’s the next installment!
For this fall-of-France segment I avoided the temptation to ask for a French wine and instead went back to Churchill’s speech: I asked if Michelle knew of a wine in which one could taste “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Her answer: a Chilean wine called a Carmenere. Here are her tasting notes:
Root: 1 2012 Carmenere: This wine poured an inky violet into the glass and opened with a brooding aroma of dark berries, spice, pepper and smoky notes. On the palate this bold Carmenere offered flavors of blackberries, black cherries and black plums, along with baking spice, leather and smoke, ending with a touch of espresso and a hint of vanilla. This wine was crafted from 85% Carmenere and 15% Syrah from grapes grown in the Colchagua Valley, Chile. This wine offered concentrated fruit flavors wrapped around earthiness, with round acidity and well integrated tannins for a smooth mouth-feel and a rich, lingering finish. 13.5% alcohol. SRP $10.
I found this a very bold and interesting wine. You can definitely taste the dirt of Chile, and I’d like to think that all good wine is made with the sweat of those who work so hard to make it. Blood? I’ll leave that one to your imagination, but Root: 1 was definitely a great wine that I’ll recommend, and it was an excellent pairing with this segment.
Stay tuned for more Winds of War as we go into the London Blitz. I’m already craving the wine for that one!