“Wounded Tiger” Mixed Bag, Mixed Genres

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“Wounded Tiger” A Nonfiction Novel

“Wounded Tiger” is chiefly about Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, the pilot who led the attack on Pearl Harbor. This ambitious story opens on December 1941 in Tokyo, where Emperor Hirohito is described as falling weightless from a cliff’s edge, a metaphor for his decision to establish Japan’s dominance over the Pacific and East Asia.

Fuchida is well developed. We see this proud, talented military leader being challenged, disillusioned and transformed: “[H]e… observed the soot-covered poor carting off grotesque corpses, the veil of the elegant theories of war was torn away to reveal the hideous reality of a people enduring unimaginable suffering.”

T Martin Bennett excelled at finding the balance between conveying facts and demonstrating creativity. Authors writing in the hybrid category of nonfiction novel can flout some conventions of either or both genres. I would have appreciated meaningful footnotes or endnotes, an index and a bibliography to bolster nonfiction content. I would have liked a stronger spotlight on narrative arc to find this completely satisfying as a novel.

It’s evident that Bennett amassed a mountain of researched material, and the main story in this, his first novel, is overwhelmingly compelling enough to be, in the right hands, an important movie on a par with “Letters from Iwo Jima.” For that to happen, ruthless editing and disciplined script writing is necessary, especially considering standard movie runtimes. (In fact, Bennett first wrote “Wounded Tiger” as a screenplay.)

Enough material exists in the more than 450 pages of the first edition of the nonfiction novel to be reshaped into several books. As it is, “Wounded Tiger” tries to be too much – biography, history, conversion story, saga, creative nonfiction, novel – in one package. For that reason, I believe “Wounded Tiger” would be of interest to WWII enthusiasts, and have limited crossover appeal.

At times, it seems as though Bennett threw in scenes not to move the plot forward, but rather to remind readers about some of the other characters’ existence. For example, he included short scenes occurring at the Andrus farm in Oregon, where the family of an Air Force pilot who participated in Doolittle’s raid and becomes a POW, copes with the agony of not knowing where he is or if he’s alive.

The half-page final chapter, set in 1950, is given to the young woman whose forgiving nature inspired Fuchida’s conversion to Christianity.

The second edition, according to one of Bennet’s websites, includes 276 photos – there are none in the first edition. The newer edition includes more maps – the rudimentary maps in the first edition add nothing to readers’ understanding of situations that wasn’t adequately explained in the text. The second edition boasts 10,000 more words than the first edition. One hopes that typos littering the first edition were fixed before the second edition was published.

Overall, I liked the first edition and extend kudos to Bennett for his monumental achievement.  Nevertheless, the book could have been better if it were shorter.

By Beth Fowler, author of “Ken’s War.” 

 

 

What is True? What is Creative?


A writer honors the creative nonfiction contract by not presenting anything as fact that he or she doesn’t know to be fact. To comply with the contract, and earn readers’ trust, the writer signals when a bit of info is, in fact, not factual. 

As you read “Good Things” identify the words and phrases I used to signal what I was imagining and interpreting as opposed to what information is factual.

Good Things

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“Mrs. Clair K. Decker.”

“Mrs. Clair K. Decker.”

Grandma had fountain-penned her new name in graceful letters on the canvas covers of a recipe booklet. The cover shows a nifty illustration of a youthful woman and tendrils of art nouveau steam wafting out of bowls.

Every four years or so, I pull “Good Things to Eat and How to Prepare Them” off my cupboard shelf and contemplate selling it. Or even donating it. Copyrighted in 1906, the 80-page collection of “more than 250 choice recipes” had cost 15 cents in the early 1900s.

Enjoying the feel of the soft, yellowed pages, I learn that “whether dinner is served at noon or at night it is the hearty meal of the day,” and try to imagine Grandma – whom I was told married Clair when she was 12 – preparing Stuffed Potatoes and Banana Salad.

My imagination fails. Those weren’t dished up at her extra-long oak dining table. Pancakes, I remember, and turkey with bread stuffing. But they’re not in this slim volume.

I leaf though the booklet again, this time with a purpose. I’m looking for the most splattered pages as a clue to what recipes she might have favored as a new housewife.

Desserts. Brown stains freckle the dessert pages. The chapter subtitle is, “ ‘Pretty Little Tiny Kickshaws.’ Shakespeare.” Kickshaws? Might Strawberry Sago be a kickshaw? Or Orange Pudding? Custard Pie?

Custard Pie! I do remember that kickshaw.

I also remember that Grandma hunted deer and went trout fishing with Grandpap. Together they raised potatoes, gladioli and three children.

One page in “Good Things to Eat” depicts the components of an eight-piece place setting arranged just so. The accompanying instructions are stiff with exacting adverbs: carefully, perfectly, squarely.

For the good of the marriage, Katie Kendall must have learned to compromise early on. You only had to notice Clair’s Camels, stinking cigarette lighter and rattlesnake tail buttons on the kitchen windowsill to know that. And what grandchild could forget that gawd-awful sound of his phlegm projectiles?

Once, when she didn’t know I was within earshot, Grandma described someone as being “full of piss and vinegar!” in a voice that sounded, to my young ears, admiring, envious perhaps. I’d hoped I would become a grownup full of those key ingredients.

I tucked the booklet back onto the shelf.

Did I comply with the creative nonfiction contract?

By Beth Fowler, author of “Ken’s War.” Visit https://www.facebook.com/kenswar.