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Drive to the East (Settling Accounts, Book Two) Paperback – May 30 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
In Turtledove's engrossing second book in the alternate history master's Settling Accounts trilogy (after 2004's Return Engagement), Confederate forces, in an undeclared war of revenge that coincides with WWII, have split the United States from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, but this only stiffens Yankee resolve. Insurrection breaks out in occupied Canada and in Mormon Utah, resulting in harsh reprisals by U.S. troops against civilians, while Confederate President Jake Featherstone pushes for more "population reductions" of freed slaves. As in the previous volume, Turtledove comes up with convincing analogues to events during WWII, such as the Confederate army's Stalingrad-like defeat around Pittsburgh. On the other hand, his portrait of the führer-like Featherstone is less persuasive. The Southern leader shows more courage and flexibility than his model, making intimations of future behavior a procrustean attempt to force him back into a Hitlerian mold. There's enough back story for the benefit of new readers, while established fans, despite the repetition, will find this latest installment thoroughly satisfying.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* The second volume of Turtledove's third alternate World War II trilogy, Settling Accounts, is in many ways the strongest one in any of them. The Confederacy has given its best shot at cutting the U.S. in two between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, but U.S. production and tenacity are beginning not only to hold the line but also to regain lost ground. Meanwhile, at sea the primary opponents are the U.S and Britain, and "deep in the heart of Texas," nobody is singing as Jake Featherston's final solution to the Negro problem picks up speed. There is plenty of action, and, of course, characterization remains one of Turtledove's long suits. But the real strength of the book, and of the whole alternate-history saga of which it is neither least nor last, lies in the juxtaposition of events not usually associated with people who could be readers' parents or grandparents. Firing squad executions in Canada? Suicide bombers in Utah and the Deep South? A U.S. destroyer escort sinking a British Q-ship? The pacing practically compels one to keep reading, but after a certain point, Turtledove's not-just-refutation but massacre of "American exceptionalism" may bring some readers to the point of putting the book away and seeking a soothing, cozy novel by Stephen King. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As I have said before about this series, the plotting is wonderful. There are a few too many obvious choices, like having another "Stalingrad" and having Featherston act too much like Hitler in all respects. Overall, though, I like what Turtledove has done with it. There are some little things that bothered me, such as why the there doesn't appear to be any US troops west of Ohio other than in the extreme southwest and fighting in Utah. The Confederates split the country in two, but in reading about what happens, they don't seem concerned at all about anything west of Ohio. The "drive to the east" from the title of the book takes up everything. The US is attacking in Virginia, but that's stalled. What about Illinois and Iowa? Overall, though, Turtledove gives us enough viewpoint characters that we get to see most of what's going on in North America, and that's a good thing. There is one area that we don't get to see, however, and I think that's a shame. I won't reveal it, because it will reveal a character death, but I will say that this character's death happens at just the perfect time to rob us of getting a viewpoint of what's happening in a certain segment of the war. I'm sure Turtledove had his reasons, but it disappointed me.
Especially chilling is that we see the "Final Solution" from the point of view of two characters that we have grown to know over a period of 8 books, characters that we may not love, but we do know. We've seen their prejudices, but having become familiar with them, it's hard to swallow them buying into all of this (not to mention that one of them actually is the idea-man behind it!). It's easier to look at monsters like that when we don't know anything about them, and I found those scenes uncomfortable, but in a good way. I like it when an author can do that to me.
Everything above was great, and it made me really want to read the next book. He left a couple of characters on cliffhangers, killed off a couple of other characters, and gave us a new viewpoint character. I liked how we got the black experience with two men who are in the thick of all the fear that this atmosphere brings.
Yet this book was a struggle to get through. First, Turtledove's style, at least in this series, is a "down home country bumpkin" kind of style, even in the narration. The dialogue is the same way, and it was extremely irritating. Too many "I'd like to say you are wrong, but I can't, because you're right" type of statements. Most of the prose just grated on me. But this is par for the course with Turtledove, at least for me.
Also par for the course is the amount of repetition, both in dialogue and narration. However, Turtledove must have hit the "overdrive" button on this one, as it is almost everywhere in this book. I can't count the number of times he mentions men looking around for a ditch to hide in when airplanes are above. I wish I could tell you how many times, when we're either looking at Featherston or Potter (the spymaster), that we hear the wrestling metaphor for the current situation. Ideally, the Confederate surprise attack would have knocked the US out of the war immediately, but since the US has refused to give in despite being divided, the Confederacy is now wrestling the US in a match it can't win without a knockout blow. Turtledove teases us by mentioning, yet again, Sam Carstens' need for zinc oxide to avoid sunburn, but then he only mentions it one more time in the book. I thought we were saved, but instead, he decides to repeat everything else in the book. At almost 600 pages now, this book could have been a bit shorter and less padded without all of this.
It's a really good thing I care about most of the characters (now that Turtledove has killed off most of the annoying ones), or I wouldn't have been able to finish the book. As it was, Drive to the East was a slog, like walking through the mud of No-Man's Land in the Great War (which he also continually references). I'm in this story to the end, as I really want to see how it turns out (and whether Atlanta or Charleston is going to get nuked). But my head may be horribly bruised by the time I'm done with it, from banging my head against the wall too much.
There is an interesting new note to this volume. The Mormon revolt in Utah - an ongoing subplot that dates back to the initial volume in the series - produces a new weapon that is more familiar to readers from today's headlines than from histories of World War II. It seems that Turtledove has decided to introduce an element of 21st century warfare to his 1940s battlefield as a way of commenting on current events, suggesting his own attitudes to today's violence. It will be interesting as well to see if he develops this idea further in the next volume.
Yet as enjoyable as the novel is, it suffers from a degree of sloppiness. Some of the sloppiness is error borne of too little research - I doubt that his alternate U.S. would name a destroyer escort after a Southerner, for example - while some seems to be of exhaustion. Compared to the initial volumes of the series there seems to be a growing degree of repetitiveness in this book, not just of the last installment (a little understandable due to the need to refresh readers from what happened previously) but within the book itself. Observations and even plot developments are recycled and rehashed almost as if Turtledove is simply trying to fill space. While I'm as eager for the next volume as any other fan of the series, I would be willing to wait a little longer if it led to a novel of the caliber of "How Few Remain." Though this book may develop the tale he started with that work, it seems to be a little hollow by comparison.
I'm a retired U.S. Navy Chief so I know how warships operate. Turtledove emphasizes that the mustang Lieutenant, Sam Carsten, doesn't know shiphandling. Apparently, Turtledove thinks that shiphandling means standing at the wheel and steering the ship. Officers don't do that. In the U.S. Navy, helmsmen are junior seamen. The Officer of the Deck (OOD) directs them. That's because shiphandling involves a whole lot more than just steering. Navigation, ship's speed, and general shipboard routine are controlled by the OOD. He (nowadays, or she) cannot get distracted by the full-time job of keeping the bow pointed in the right direction.
Turtledove seems to think that his readers can't remember details. Believe me, Harry, we don't have to be told every 20 pages that Northern tobacco tastes like horse droppings and Southern tobacco is ambrosial. We don't have to told time after time that Yossel Reissen's aunt is Congresswoman Blackford but he doesn't use that connection because it wouldn't be right. We only have to be told once that Sam Carsten sunburns easily. We can actually recall that stuff all on our own.
I'd love to know what is happening in the rest of the world. There's a war going on in Europe that's barely mentioned. For that matter, we don't really know what's happening in Canada.
Now that I've got my whines done, I must say that I enjoyed "Drive to the East" and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.
1. The dialogue takes one of three forms. A) A stupid character (most of them seem to be) says something ignorant and another, wiser character says something sarcastic in response. B) A character says something sarcastic and another character agrees with him by saying something like, "I wish I thought you're wrong, but you ain't." C) A character says something that's not the least bit funny and everyone laughs. You may think I'm exaggerating, but all of the dialogue is exactly like this.
2. The book is excruciatingly repetitive. It's not good enough that we are told something by one character; every single character needs to tell us the same thing. And if they haven't said it in awhile, they'll say it again just so you don't forget. Every single time he mentions the Red Cross going to get the wounded, he has to throw in there that while they normally were not attacked, it did happen at times. Every time!
Those are the problems, but surprisingly there is a lot of good here too. First of all, the reader needs to start with book 1 of the first series. If this is your first Turtledove novel, put it aside for now and read the others because it won't make sense. The story is engrossing though, and if you know your history it is fascinating to see how the same sort of events can come about in different situations. I find myself rooting for my "country" even though none of the nations in the book really look like the countries of today. I care what happens to them and I get frustrated when they are losing or do something stupid. It's a good book and you don't really know what's going to happen next.
I think Turtledove is far too prolific to write well. Every time I go to the bookstore I see a new book of his. Maybe if he would slow down and take his time he could turn these good books into great ones.
On one level, this is an entertaining war story, filled with real life characters in unfamiliar roles (George Patton as the Confederate Guderian, Douglas MacArthur renamed Daniel MacArthur, an offstage Winston Churchill as an ally of Oswald Mosley). Turtledove also sets up predictable alternate universe counterparts of OUR World War II. Without reading the book, can you guess which World War II battle inspires the fight for Pittsburgh? Too obvious for words, but still well written and well thought out.
But this is also Turtledove's darkest book yet. The moral squalor on which Confederate society rests deepens, and familiar characters descend into the "banality of evil" in ways that Hannah Arendt never managed to describe.
Perhaps that is the reason I have stuck with this series since the beginning. I want to understand how an entire society of men and women who love each other and dote on their children can also be homicidally psychotic.
In many respects, Turtledove's Southerners are worse than their German counterparts in our universe. True, Confederate spymaster Clarence Potter is being set up to play Canaris, about to join a bomb plot. But there is no White Rose here, no individual or group of heroic moral dissenters willing to pay with their lives to say "We are being lied to. We are becoming a nation of criminals. We must stop this or lose our souls."
With staggeringly few exceptions, these "decent white folk" know and know full well what is being done in their name, and either enthusiastically participate, just as enthusiatically applaud, or look away with utter indifference. No one in the South hides a black family in their attic.
As a Jew, I at first found the character of Saul Goldman, who stands in for Josef Goebbels, offensive and disturbing. But Turtledove is using Goldman to make an ugly, effective point about the culture of racial hatred that infected ALL of White America (including the North) until recently (and still infects part of it). As someone has observed, racism is White America's original sin.
In our universe, some Southern whites DID do what those in Turtledove's universe do not. Reading this book and all those that have led up to it forces us to consider the catastrophic possibilities we avoided in the 1860s.