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The Wind is not a River - Book of the Month

by Brian Payton

In 1942 Japanese forces seized the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska in Alaska and American censors ordered a news blackout to hide the invasion from a nervous public.

John Easley, a journalist with National Geographic, has lost his brother in the war and, driven by grief, is eager to ‘do his bit’ to report on this hidden conflict leaving behind his young wife, Helen. When John’s plane is shot down over Attu only he and a young Texan airman pull through. Their battle for survival is harrowing. They live in a cave, eat seabirds and mussels, contend with diahorrea, raging toothache and frostbite, all the while dodging Japanese patrols that scour the beaches.

Meanwhile, at home in Seattle, Helen is frantically trying to get any news she can of John’s disappearance but all the official channels seem to be closed to her. In desperation she embarks on an uncharacteristically bold plan – to join the U.S.O (United Service Organizations Inc.) as a dancer and see if she can get posted to Alaska. This also becomes battle for survival, where she and the women are ogled (what Helen expected) and her vulnerability is exploited by an over-zealous soldier who thinks she’s there for the taking. Mindful of the hardship that John may be experiencing back on Attu, Helen is undaunted - she must go on in the hope of getting any news of him.

The story is told alternately from John and Helen’s points of view, written in clear and succinct prose, with two very distinct voices and it works very well. This highly readable and almost cinematic book, highlights the horror and futility of war, the extraordinary power of the human struggle for survival, and the intense power of love. As for an explanation of the intriguing title – you’ll just have to read the book.

Read our interview with Brian Payton.

Published by Mantle – 320pp

Irene Haynes

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