Reviewed by Edward C. Patterson
The Lonely War is the story of a Chinese-American youth who is raised in a multi-cultural environment, schooled in Buddhism, and then is thrust into the world at war -- the US Navy during the Pacific conflict. Andrew Waters encounters every known flavor of intolerance, but because he is well grounded, strong in his pacifist convictions and emerging from the mysteries of the closet, he manages to survive events that the average person could not withstand. The issue, however, is that Andrew hasn't figured out the reason for his own existence and fosters the best part of all who encounter him, from hateful bigots, to duplicitous clergy, to prison commandants, and to wayward young men. A reader has no better guide to World War II than through Andrew Waters' soulful heart.
Alan Chin has created a realistic war novel, not the kind we imagine, but the ground level view that many veterans will easily recognize. However, whenever we feel afraid of the progression of the tale, the characters bind us to reality -- that duty and patriotism and even a hint of bravery can overcome the direst circumstances. Even death becomes a transitional state in this brilliant work. One does not generally expect tender imagery in a war novel, but Mr. Chin constantly provides us balm without becoming tedious. The only problem I had with the book is that it kept me up well after two AM each night, because I could not put it down. Just one chapter more. Just one. This happens perhaps with one in twenty or so books, and when I get one like it, I look for other works by the same author.
Two points: I particularly enjoyed the characterizations in this character driven novel. Even the "bad-guys" developed into memorable homilies. When they are exposed to the proper light, everyone can find their way to the heart of humanity. I especially enjoyed the character of Hud (Hudson), and I will say no more on that, because that would spoil the experience. I also enjoyed the absence of the usual labels for men on men relationships. They happen so organically in this novel that anyone who knows about these things will say, "Yep, that's it exactly."
The level of research is amazing. The various cultures revealed, especially Japanese and Chinese, are to the point, and I can attest to that having degrees in East Asian culture. Naval logistics are right on the money and the descriptions of Kyoto tell me that Mr. Chin has visited there in order to take me with him.
A brilliant book. I recommend it to anyone who wants a good read and lingering joy.