Wednesday, August 20, 2014

There is a lot of meat in "The Yanks are Starving" - Glen Craney's epic novel of the Bonus Army

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There are moments in time that truly are "pivot points" that affect not just individuals, but entire countries.  The governments handling of "The Bonus Army" veterans is one such pivot point.  This incident is usually glossed over in schools, but it was truly a watershed moment that has been proven to repeat itself in various ways even to this day.  For those of you, who like myself, just had a passing knowledge of this event - it occurs in the middle of the Great Depression on July 28, 1932.  Veterans of World War I marched on Washington to try and convince the government and President Hoover to forward the Bonus that they were to be given in 1945 (when many of the World War I vets would have passed away).  Close to 17,000 veterans, many homeless and with families, made a trek to Washington DC to protest, only to be met by overzealous generals with infantry and calvary.  

In the end, 4 Bonus Army soldiers lay dead and their "shanty town" was burned to the ground.  Their leader, Walter Waters, who lead veterans all the way from Oregon to the nations capital - was run out of town unceremoniously.  Amazingly, Waters re-enlisted in the Navy to fight for his country again in World War II.

Craney covers this incident in such detail that I wish to grant him an honorary doctorate from Movies and Manuscripts University - which will get him about as much as the Bonus Army Veterans got at the end of their "adventure" - which is to say - nothing. 

 "The Yanks are Starving" starts well before the incident and follows many different "characters" of the era and gives you a birds eye view of how all of their different paths all came together on that fateful day.  I am very interested in history, but must admit I knew little about World War I.  There are so many famous people in this book that it would make Forrest Gump seem like he never met anyone of import. 

Some of the characters off the top of my head - Ty Cobb, George Patton, Douglas McArthur, Walter Johnson, Smedley Butler, Herbert Hoover, Winston Churchill, and Carnegie Mellon all make appearances.  Looking at that list, you would assume that this has to be a total work of fiction - but what is more amazing is that it is not.  It is "historical fiction", but the events are real.  The author did add two "composite characters" to help move the story along, but gives very solid reasons for doing so at the end of the book - and I believe that they only add to the story.

A few of the reviews state that the book is too long and started too far in advance of the main event.  At first I felt the same, but by doing this Carney really brought to life all of the different personalities involved.  Also, by starting the novel with events that preceded World War I and taking you through the trenches with the characters the reader can really understand what these men sacrificed.  When put into contrast to what they were asking for, you may come to the same conclusion that the government has been in the business of screwing veterans for many decades and generations now.  There would have been so much lost if Carney would have solely focused on the actual event that this would have been an average book at best instead of a book that stands out as one of the best and most memorable that I have ever read.

I can't tell you how many times I had to stop reading and look up on the internet to see if what was in the book actually happened.  After the first 15 times of finding that the research was spot on, I just quit looking and enjoyed the book knowing that this was the result of a huge amount of research.

The amount of detail and interactions between the characters is truly amazing.  It almost had the feel of "Game of Thrones" with the complexity of the different factions, characters, and settings involved - but much easier to follow.  It always amazes me when an author tackles a subject that a person already knows how it ends, but still is hoping that someway - somehow - that it ends in a kind of weird parallel universe with a different ending.  Even knowing the inevitable ending - my attention was held until the end.

If there is anyone involved with producing television mini-series - this is one that I feel would be a sure fire hit.

I give this book my highest recommendation.  If you are into history - this is a "must read" book that you need to add to your library.  Thank you, Mr. Craney, for the effort that you put into this fabulous book!

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