Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

November 16, 2013 


Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II

Wil S. Hylton, Riverhead, 233 pages

Wil S. Hylton’s superb new book, “Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II,” is part history, part Indiana Jones thriller. “Vanished” pays tribute to the men who were lost in a largely forgotten campaign, and it celebrates the determination of the divers and scientists who risk their lives in exotic places to bring the missing home.

Hylton’s narrative charges, and his writing is lean and vivid, especially when it depicts battle. Here, the Japanese scramble U.S. bombers: “As the first squadron approached, a swarm of Japanese Zeros leaped from the airfields toward them, zipping around the Fifth bombers and dancing in the air above them, swooping down like knives to slice through them, rattling them with machine-gun fire, and then looping overhead again to drop phosphorous bombs that exploded into tentacles of white-hot liquid dripping down the clouds.”



At Night We Walk in Circles

Daniel Alarcon, Riverhead, 384 pages

“At Night We Walk in Circles” is a novel that successfully takes up many of the great themes and sorrows of the Latin American present. Alarcon’s unnamed country (which bears a striking resemblance to Peru) is recovering from a war that raged in the capital city and many distant provinces. The conflict sent many people into exile, dividing families, including that of Nelson, whose “early adolescence coincided with the hard, bleak years of the war.”

By the time Nelson reaches adulthood, the war is long over, but he latches on to a powerful memory from that time of conflict – hearing a radio interview with an imprisoned actor named Henry. Spurred by that memory, Nelson becomes an actor too.

Now in his 20s, he seeks out the jaded Henry and joins his radical theater troupe Diciembre in a revival tour of their most famous play, “The Idiot President.”

“Nelson was obsessed. He loved (the troupe), their history, and his admiration for Henry Nunez was really something,” one of the characters tells the novel’s narrator. “You’ve got to understand, this is not a universally recognized playwright or anything…. I'll admit, I never understood what the big deal was.”

Much of “At Night We Walk in Circles” is written in this fashion. The narrator is a young man of Nelson’s generation piecing together a story about Nelson with a series of interviews. Much of “At Night We Walk in Circles” therefore feels like a kind of oral history, which is both the novel’s strength and its most glaring weakness.

Los Angeles Times

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