Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Eve of a Hundred Midnights - Bill Lascher

Eve of a Hundred Midnights: The Star-Crossed Love Story of Two WWII Correspondents and their Epic Escape Across the PacificI recently realized I haven't read a lot of nonfiction this year.  This is actually kind of strange for me because I really like nonfiction, and Eve of a Hundred Midnights is a great example of why.

This is the true story of two news correspondents during WWII.  The first, and main one, is Mel Jacoby, who was a relative of the author's.  Mel worked for his college newspaper and went to China on a study abroad during his junior year, at which point he absolutely fell in love with the country.  After his graduation, he found his way back, working as a reporter for a propaganda station in China's wartime capital.  He continued to move around in various reporting capacities, coming and going from different points in Asia for several years.  Eventually, he convinced a girl, Annalee, who had also worked at the college newspaper, and who he had connected with during a stop back in the United States, to also move to China in a news capacity.  But as the war intensified, Mel ended up stationed in the Philippines, and Annalee ended up joining him there and the two got married.  And then the United States suddenly joined the war, and the two found themselves stuck in the islands, with the Japanese army--who were likely to kill Mel if they caught him--growing ever closer.

This book has a lengthy subtitle, "The Star-Crossed Love Story of Two WWII Correspondents and Their Epic Escape Across the Pacific."  Well, that's part of the story.  It's not all of it, and it's really not even most of it.  The actual escape across the Pacific takes up a relatively small part of the book, and it's probably actually one of the most uneventful portions.  It must have been nerve-wracking at the time, I'm sure, but in retrospect, with more than a half a century between us and the story, it wasn't nearly as exciting as reading about dodging falling bombs in China.  The book also isn't really the story of two star-crossed lovers.  First off, star-crossed implies there was something keeping them from each other, and there wasn't.  Second, Annalee is NOT very prominent in this book.  The focus is definitely on Mel, which is understandable, given the author's relation to him, but it's a bit misleading to make it out like Annalee was more of a player than she was.

Most of the book is really about Mel and how he ended up in Manila prior to the US retreat and Japanese army's arrival.  It's a very interesting story, about living in a war capital, navigating the different censors and political bodies, and seeing war grow ever closer, all the while trying to report the news in a way that no one back home was actually doing.  I really enjoyed this, because it was a perspective that we don't usually get.  Lascher includes a hefty reference section in the back, and it's a pretty good bet that Mel and Annalee actually did think and feel as he portrays them, because he quotes their letters and cables extensively.  Lascher is a very engaging writer, and makes Mel and Annalee's story into just that: a story.  I think he does wax poetic a couple of times; the epilogue is a great example of this.  It's very purple and completely unnecessary to the content of the book.  Overall, though, this was a really great book that offered a fairly unique perspective into a part of the war, and the lead-up to it, that we don't typically get to see.  Very interesting.  I just found myself wishing that the part of the story that was actually advertised had been a little more prominent and gripping!

4 stars out of 5.

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