I recently reviewed Days of Infamy: A Novel of Alternate History and while I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I complained that author Harry Turtledove perhaps understated the brutality of the Japanese during World War II. End of the Beginning picks up where Days of Infamy left off, and this time, I think the true horror of living in a Japanese occupied territory during World War II is clearly illustrated.
Perhaps it is just me, but I am more horrified by violent rape than I am by death. Death can be horrible, but with death, the horror ends. In End of the Beginning, some of the characters that I had learned to identify with and had grown fond of find themselves in increasingly desperate straights. Hawaii's civilians are slowly starving. U.S. prisoners of war are on a program of accelerated slow death. Their hunger is punctuated by random beatings and grueling manual labor.
Fletcher "Fletch" Armitage, a U.S. POW, is a walking skeleton and his wife Jane, who had been in the process of divorcing him when the war began, is forced to work in a Japanese "comfort house" as a sex slave. She is beaten and forced to satisfy numerous Japanese daily. The writer does an excellent job of bringing home the shame and horror of being forced to surrender your body repeatedly to other humans who do not perceive you as human but as an object to be used. This is not a book for children. I felt queasy reading certain passages, and I am perhaps one of the most jaded Americans I know.
Despite or perhaps because of the discomfort I felt as the stories of characters I had come to care about unfolded and took turns for the worse, this book had me hypnotized throughout. It was better than Days of Infamy mostly because I was rooting for America to retake Hawaii the whole time. I had to wait to read End of the Beginning for this to happen.
Although the Japanese are portrayed as brutal (and they were, historically speaking), Turtledove also portrays some of his Japanese characters as likeable men dedicated to their duty. Commander Genda, who is the engineer of the invasion and Admiral Yamamoto's protege, has an affair with the recently crowned Queen of Hawaii but he is a likable, intelligent man who is not brutal by nature and is simply doing his best to serve his nation.
End of the Beginning managed to to suck me through its 440 pages in two days and left me wanting to hear more of the story. My own war here in Iraq seems boring by comparison to the scope and scale of events in World War II, and Turtledove's imagined land invasion of Hawaii is not that far off what might have happened. A highly worthwhile read for history buffs, action fans, romance lovers and adventure aficionados.