Book Review

Comparative Book Review
Baa Baa Black Sheep by Gregory Boyington
and With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge

Baa Baa Black Sheep by Gregory Boyington is an autobiographical war novel, which describes events that took place during the World War II. Boyington dedicated all his life to military, he took part in several wars and was even captured during the war and awarded with Congressional Medal of Honor and a Navy Cross for his achievements, so he knew what he was writing about. The book describes everyday life and great deeds of the Black Sheep squadron during the WW2. The main character is described as fearless and wild person. At the beginning of the novel he becomes the author describing his drinking experiences during the first year of military service. He spends much time describing his problems with alcohol and uncontrolled behavior, such as shooting Japanese planes being completely drunk. His courage and unconquerable spirit don’t stay unnoticed and soon he becomes the leader of the flying squadron. Awesome responsibilities change him and he becomes able to overcome his drinking problems. The squadron fights bravely but finally Gregory is shot down by Japanese and gets to their prison. The time he spent in prison is described in great detail. He gets through beating and torturing. At the same time he meets kind Japanese people who help him. What is noticeable, he doesn’t hate Japanese and doesn’t treat them like enemies. He is liberated after the end of the war and comes back home. Unfortunately, the main character can not overcome his drinking problems and turns back to alcohol.
With the Old Breed : At Peleliu and Okinawa written by Eugene Sledge is an autobiographical account of his military service during the WW2. The book describes the fighting in the South Pacific during the WW2. It describes campaigns in Peleliu and Okinawa in great detail and brave actions of the USA Marines during this campaigns. The author starts the book with the description of his first impressions after getting to the war. He joined the army the year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and served there from 1943 to 1946 and these years are described in his novel. Sledge honestly describes his experience from the time when full of illusions and romantic expectations he steps on the beach of Peleliu and till the time when brutality and horrors of the war destroy his illusions. Then he describes long months of the war full of pain, struggle and fear. Sledge depicts horrors of war and difficult climate conditions with sincerity. “To me, artillery was an invention of hell. The onrushing whistle and scream of the big steel package of destruction was the pinnacle of violent fury and the embodiment of pent-up evil. I developed a passionate hatred for shells. To be killed by a bullet seemed s clean and surgical. But shells would not only tear and rip the body, they tortured one’s mind almost beyond the brink of sanity”(Sledge, p.76). Reading the story you get a perfect idea of the way the USA Marines fought during the WW2.
In Baa, Baa Blacksheep Gregory Boyington doesn’t use sophisticated literary style or technique and it’s probably hard to expect it from the brave soldier. But still, the book captures your attention from the first pages and you don’t even notice how you start living the life of main characters. Pappy Boyingtion, famous pilot of the WW2, is the protagonist of the book. It was told once that the author can depict what he has experienced best of all. I think it’s very true for this book, as Boyington depicts events which happened with him and his friends. Though he describes comparatively recent time in his book we get into another world while reading it. It’s hard for us, peaceful citizens, to imagine the life during the war time when the human life was under the constant threat and killing was an ordinary thing. I must admit that Boyington does a good job making the reader not only read the story but also feel and experience it. The lack of literary style is fully compensated by sincerity and passion of the author. The autobiographical style and first person narration make the story very personal and make the reader very sympathetic to the author. The author, or the main character of the book, may be called a tragic character as we may see his inner conflicts and the way he overcomes them. We can see the beautiful transformation of the main character and his personal development. The book has two planes of depiction and two levels of meaning, to my mind. First level is a depiction of the WW2 and second one is a depiction of inner world of the main character, his system of beliefs, growth and transformation. It’s amazing to read how these two level interact and influence each other during the development of the plot.
With the Old Breed by Sledge can be interesting for both, historians who are interested in the events of the WW2 and those who like historical reading. The novel is very captivating, though some details can be horrifying for those who have little knowledge about the scaring truth about the war. I think the author’s purpose wan not to depict the horrors of war but to underline that even during the war it’s possible to stay human, to care about other people and sacrifice life for the sake of ideals. Sledge isn’t a historian, he isn’t a professional writer either but I think he accomplishes his task brilliantly. The book is a very detailed historical record of two great fights of the WW2. It even contains the maps and pictures, which make the story more realistic and help those, who want to see real historical facts. The book is interesting also for those who are more interested in the inner state of the main character, who had to pass through the hell of war and not only saved his face but also became morally mature. I think that with the help of the events described in the book Sledge proves that it’s possible to stay human in any conditions and extreme situations like war uncover true personality of people. The author’s writing is very poetic and professional. The author shares his inner feelings and emotions with stunning sincerity and makes the reader involved into his inner world.
I would say books are very alike though they depict the problem from different sides. Both books describe the event of the WW2. Both are autobiographical novels written by the participants of this horrible war. Both books can be very useful for those who are interested in the history of the US and the events of the WW2 in particular. The books are different in their styles. Sledge’s language is richer and he builds his narration as a professional writer. We can not find such skillfulness in Boyington’s writing but he has his particular style. What is interesting, both books describe the transformation of the main characters. In Baa, Baa Blacksheep the main character gives up his drinking habits when he becomes the leader of the squadron. In Sledge’s book the main character has to find his place in the cruel reality of the war when you are in danger every moment. In both books we can see the development of the main characters’ personalities and the war becomes the main stimulus for this change. Autobiographical character of both novels makes the reader penetrate deeper into the world of the man characters and get insight into their feelings. Both books contain realistic depiction of events and a lot of descriptions of cruelty and pain. The reading can be difficult sometimes but I think that it’s necessary to learn about the history of the country. Only learning lessons from the past experience we can escape repeating horrible events in the future.

References

Sledge, E.B., With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1990

Boyington, Gregory. Baa Baa Black Sheep. (Fresno, CA: Wilson Press), 1958.