(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The action of the novel projects the lives of the principal characters against the events leading to American entry into World War II. Victor Henry and his family are “tumbleweeds,” blown around the globe by the “winds of war.” Victor is an ambitious and frustrated naval captain who stumbles into favor with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt through a fluke prediction. As a result, Victor becomes Roosevelt’s untitled emissary to various nations and in the process meets most of the world’s leading figures: Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, Benito Mussolini, and the archvillain Adolf Hitler. His family members and close friends, in like manner, whirl about the globe in pursuit of adventure, love, and identity.

Despite the uneasy peace negotiated at Munich in 1937, Europe is openly preparing for war in 1939. Hitler dominates the headlines, and the question is not whether he will provoke war but where: He already has Czechoslovakia, but he clearly wants to invade Poland, France, and the largest target of all, the Soviet Union. As a military man, Victor Henry is clearly involved, but when his sons follow him into naval service, the events of the war become events in each character’s personal life. Byron falls in love with Natalie Jastrow, whose Jewish ancestry is as much an issue with his own family as it is with the Fascist leaders of Europe. Her uncle, Aaron Jastrow, affords a further complication when he first refuses, and then desperately...

(The entire section is 517 words.)