TULAGI HOTEL by Heikki Hietala

tulagi hotelI went through a period where my main focus of interest was World War II.   You know the books, The Naked and the Dead, the Army at Dawn, Sloughterhouse Five, The Thin Red Line, The Longest Day,  A Separate Peace, The Pianist, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Guns of Navarone, Das Boot, Winds of War,  and many many others.  I can’t remember them all.  Most were heavy, serious and heartbreaking.  I got over my obsession.  I moved on.  Chick Lit,  Heavy Drama,  the Medieval era,  Sci fi,  Space, and the Zombie Apocalypse were calling my name.

I recently came across this little beauty and was immediately drawn back into the forties and the Pacific Theater.   Yeah.  Day of Infamy, Run Silent, Run Deep.  And I thought, ummm, do I really want to be back fighting the Japanese and all that torture stuff?  Eeeeuuu.  No.  I want to keep to my daisy-filled hillsides policy of head-in-the-sand reading.

But then it said ‘romance, adventure’.  OK, maybe I would give it a peek.  Am I glad I did.  And here’s why.

It’s about two guys, both with an obsession for flying from childhood, both really talented, both destined to be Aces.  They meet at flight school, form a deep friendship, and are stationed together on a base in the Solomon Islands, Halavo Bay, where they alternate as wing man for each other.

A large part of the book is about the friendship and flying done during the war by the two friends, Don Wheeler and Jack McGuire.  It is all so beautifully written,  the dog fights in the air, the time on the ground, life during the war in the Pacific.  We follow Jack as he submerges into a meltdown after Don’s death, we follow him to Pensacola where he does some flight instructing which he hates, back to Halavo, and the end of the war.

After the war, he goes home to the family farm in Nebraska, to negotiate a division of the estate with his two sisters as both his parents have since died.   He takes some college courses in agronomy, realizes that his heart is not in Nebraska, and makes a decision to go back to the Tulagi/Halavo area, buy some military surplus float planes,  and an old rundown plantation on the island of Halavo where he intends to develop a hotel for what he hopes will be the coming tourist trade.  His native friend from the war days has stowed away a bunch of quonset huts which they will use for cabins and the main buildings until he can renovate the plantation house, almost in ruins.

We first meet Jack when the widow of his friend Don appears at the hotel out of the blue in an attempt to get closure on his death, which she cannot get past.   Nobody ever knew Don was married, and it was a real shocker to see this lady!   And the romance part comes in when Jack, always a shy, timid kind of guy, falls for her.  What comes of it?  You have to read the book to find out.

It’s a lovely book,  and has something for us all.  Let me leave you with two quotes.   His friend Don, Jack later finds out, was a huge aficionado of Omar Khayyam and his quatrains.   He wanted the number 71 painted on his airplane’s nose.   It was Omar Khayyam’s quatrain 71:

The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ

Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

And Jack at last discovers that

Home was not just a place, and happiness was not just a person.  Home was a set of thoughts interconnected with a place, bound to each other like yarn in a loom.

Just a beautiful book.

 

 

 

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