I bet you thought I forgot about The Winds of War! Not true…if I’ve forgotten anything this summer, it’s Mysterious Tales of the New England Coast! But I’m still plugging valiantly along through Herman Wouk’s 1000-page-plus soap opera of World War II which I’ve been live-blogging the whole summer. I’m proud of myself that I actually managed to make it halfway through. Of course I should have been at the halfway mark no later than the time Wacken rolled around, but still. In this installment I’ll update you on the book itself, and share another wonderful wine suggestion by RockinRed Blog author Michelle Williams, as well as a wine suggestion of my own. So find a chilled glass and a corkscrew, and let’s get back to the saga.
The last installment was very heavy on the romance between Byron Henry, now in submarine school, and Natalie Jastrow, who’s trying to escape fascist Europe. This next section features Victor “Pug” Henry front and center. It’s summer 1940 and the valiant U.S. Navy captain and amateur diplomat is called back to Washington to have a martini with Franklin Roosevelt. Yes, that’s really it–it’s right there on page 431! “This is an excellent martini, Mr. President. It sort of tastes like it isn’t there. Just a cold cloud.” In amongst the boozing with FDR there’s the little matter of sending Pug to oversee the transfer of 53 old Navy dive bombers to the British, an underhanded way, even before Lend-Lease, of giving Churchill the military supplies he’ll need to hold out against an expected German invasion. Before leaving Washington Pug runs into Pamela Tudsbury, the fetching young woman he’s obviously attracted to, and vice-versa, despite an age difference of about 25 years between them. This part isn’t very important; Wouk is just setting the stage for the big show that’s about to occur in London.
A Home Guard observer scans the London sky for German planes, with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background. Summer 1940.
Before we get there, we have another chapter of fictional Nazi general Armin Von Roon’s military history lessons, this one on the Battle of Britain. He makes some silly argument that it was really a draw but Churchill fooled the world into thinking it was a great victory. Pug blows this argument to smithereens, of course, but this too is just preliminary. Back in 1940, he arrives in sweltering, on-edge London in the midst of the air battle. Aside from barrage balloons, though, he can’t actually see it: no one in London could. The dogfights took place only over the southeast corner of Britain, which was all the Luftwaffe had the range to hit, and most rank-and-file people got their news of the battle by reading the tallies of shot-down planes in the newspaper. Pug goes on a field trip to see a new whizz-bang invention the Brits have got called “RDF,” better known as radar. He also has a bizarre interview with Winston Churchill who predictably chews the scenery and boasts that he’ll make a beer mug out of Hitler’s skull. Okay, I made that up, but you get the picture.
At last, as the planes are roaring over England, the Pug-Pamela thing we’ve been waiting for gets started. Pam is engaged to an RAF pilot, Ted Gallard, who gets shot down in the very next scene. To comfort her Pug brings her to the London flat he’s borrowing from an American correspondent (a character I think is modeled after Edward R. Murrow). Pug is a little dense and doesn’t quite catch on that Pam wants a roll in the hay with him, his wife and her MIA fiancé be damned. But before any skirts drop, air raid sirens start going off. Pug and Pam watch from the balcony as Luftwaffe bombers appear and start kicking the crap out of London. Strangely enough this is a good sign: earlier an RAF strategist told Pug that if Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe, realized he couldn’t beat the RAF, he’d switch to the terror bombing of London instead. Thus, it’s almost a declaration that the Germans have lost and Britain won’t be invaded. But tell that to the thousands who died in the Blitz.
Many of the old Chain Home radar stations used by the RAF in the Battle of Britain are still standing–sort of. Here’s the ruin of one in Hillhead, England.
Then the phone rings. Pug has been invited–by Winston Churchill himself–to accompany an RAF plane on a bombing mission over Berlin, which is hastily arranged as retaliation for the London raid. There then follows a lengthy sequence that shows us what a WWII bombing raid was really like: a lot of boring sitting on a long flight, in extreme cold, punctuated by very brief, terrifying combat. Pug returns from the mission and Pamela is overjoyed. She cooks him a lavish meal and then they part ways. At the end of this section Pug winds up back in Berlin, but clearly he’s been tempted by his intense emotional attraction to Pamela.
Atmospherically, the London Blitz scenes are among the very best in The Winds of War. You can almost experience the crackle of fear and excitement in the streets, see the flames of the burning buildings, and feel the real fear and uncertainty that Britons had that they might be invaded and conquered. The attraction between Pug and Pamela is very well-done. I can’t decide whether I’m disappointed they didn’t sleep together, or glad that Wouk held back this element that would inevitably have changed their relationship. Pug is more like an awkward teenage boy than a 50-year-old man. Pamela is equal doses devious and angelic. She’s possibly my favorite character in the book.
You didn’t think I was going to forget about the wine, did you? Michelle made a surprising choice this time. The Blitz made her think of the mineral-driven whites of Burgundy, of which Oregon is the closest in terroir. Thus she chose a chardonnay, which is a surprise because neither of us really drink much chardonnay. This one, though, is quite special. Here’s her write-up:
Cooper Mountain 2012 Chardonnay Old Vines Willamette Valley: This lovely wine poured an inviting golden yellow into the glass. It opened with outstanding aromas that made my mouth water because it had a full bouquet of apple pie: crisp apples with a touch of citrus, baking spice and fresh baked pie crust (not buttered brioche which can be doughy and weighty). The outstanding aromas follow through on the palate with flavors of Granny Smith apples, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, marzipan and a touch of toasted pie crust. This wine was an expression of Cooper Mountain’s oldest Chardonnay vines, planted in 1978. The Cooper Mountain 2012 Old Vines Chardonnay was an elegant expression of restraint and terroir; pleasing to every sense. 13% alcohol.
Alas, despite the ironic fact that I used to live within 10 minutes’ drive of Cooper Mountain, I couldn’t find this exact wine in my local wine shop. What I chose instead was another chardonnay, specifically an “unoaked” one: Chamisal Vineyards 2012 Central Coast Stainless Chardonnay. This worked perfect for me, as I don’t like the “oaky” taste of traditional chardonnays–thus it’s a chardonnay for people who don’t like chardonnay. It was mellow, smooth, and I could almost taste the steel of the tank in which the wine was aged. That made me think of cellars and bomb shelters, which brings us back to the Blitz. If I lived in England in 1940, where better place to wait out an air raid than a wine cellar? As long as the Luftwaffe doesn’t score a direct hit, it might not be a bad way to spend the war!
I’m honestly not sure what’s coming up next in the book, but you’ll definitely see it here!