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Death is Lighter Than a Feather [Paperback]

5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 436 pages
  • Publisher: Texas A & M University Press (15 Jun 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0929398904
  • ISBN-13: 978-0929398907
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.7 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,615,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Reprint of the WWII novel originally published by Little, Brown, 1971. Speculates on the invasion of Japan. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
this and other stories about the proposed invasion shoud be made public again after all these years those generations would understand why we decided to use the atomic bomb.. actual news reels of iwo jima and okinawa and the vital statistics that resulted shoud be revealed. i believe then many would understand that the end results of an invasion of japan versus the dropping of two bombs dont even compare.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Novel of Operation Olympic 2 May 2001
By R. A Forczyk - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
David Westheimer has written a superb, fact-based novel that covers the first six weeks of Operation "Olympic", the intended invasion of Kyushu in October 1945. Of course in actuality, the invasion did not occur because the atomic bomb raids precipitated a Japanese collapse. Westheimer invites the reader into a very-possible world where the atomic bombs have not been dropped either for political or technical reasons. Given the continuing debate over the morality of the a-bomb attacks, this alternate world is well worth examining. The book begins with a prologue (in earlier versions of the book, this was actually the epilogue) that provides the historical detail behind "Olympic". Eighteen chapters follow, each detailing the experiences of one or more Japanese or American characters in the invasion.
The title is taken from the Japanese expression that, "while duty is heavier than a mountain, death is lighter than a feather." The real strength of this novel lies in the depictions of combat from the Japanese point of view, which is atypical for American readers. Having lived and gone to college in Japan, I can attest that Westheimer strikes many a true note in these depictions. Characters include resolute warriors, including a veteran fighter pilot, a determined corporal in a bunker and a fanatical battalion commander, but also cover Japanese civilians as well. One Japanese sergeant complains about some of the new recruits called up to face the invasion: "in his own regiment there was a private who had been a teacher in the middle school but it was known that he entertained subversive ideas and was not to be trusted with authority. It was a measure of the Army's desperate need that he had been permitted to serve at all. His proper place was prison, with other traitors and weaklings."
The combat scenes are very well done and these scenes evoke a sense of hopeless futility at times. The writing style is rich and detailed, but without irrelevant diversions. Westheimer also has a knack for focusing on interesting characters and situations, which is particularly true of his American characters. There is the UDT (underwater demolition team) frogman who bets that he will be the first American on Japanese soil and a B-29 pilot who affects a heroic attitude while concealing his cowardice. There is even a Japanese-American college girl who was visiting relatives in Japan when the war broke out and desperately wants to be "liberated" by the invading GIs. My particular favorite is the combat-happy US marine who believes that the Japanese are "playing a game on him" and that every Japanese soldier he kills is the same one.
The main point of the novel is to flesh out what most people with common sense could anticipate: the Americans will win but at great cost. Again and again, the fanaticism of the Japanese defense astounds the Americans. The novel ends by anticipating a Japanese surrender in January 1946, after many thousands have died on both sides. This novel should be read by anyone interested in the Pacific War or the atomic bomb controversy.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accurate alternate history, compelling fiction 29 Jun 2003
By J. N. Mohlman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In the alternate history genre, David Westheimer's "Death is Lighter than a Feather" is relatively obscure, which is a shame because it is among the most accurate, well-written offerings available. In detailing the events of an American invasion of Japan in the absence of the use of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Westheimer shows a firm grasp of strategy, tactics, weapons and geography. However, unlike many alternate histories that focus on the military to the exclusion of all else, Westheimer has simultaneously produced a rich novel full of fascinating characters that truly captures the fundamental essences of the Japanese and Americans, as well as war in general.
Westheimer begins with a prologue that deftly weaves actual events into a world in which nuclear bombs are never brought to bear. Written in the manner of a history text, it quite effectively conveys the events and players that dictated the course of events without bogging down the fiction reader in historical minutia. At the same time, the matter of fact transition from reality to fiction sets the stage quite nicely for the heart of the novel.
Rather than attempting to follow a primary cast of characters through the entirety of the novel, Westheimer has instead strung together snapshots of the lives of average people on both sides of the fighting; an American frogman, a Japanese colonel, a young Japanese girl, an American Marine, etc. The only link between chapters is the occasional return to the history book approach of the prologue in order to detail the larger course of events, and set the tone for the next chapter. In less capable hands, this approach could make for a disjointed reading experience but Westheimer effectively carries through common thematic elements that allow him to cover an array of experiences and concepts without destroying the flow of the novel.
First and foremost among these elements is Westheimer's focus on the common man or woman. By and large, the big power brokers are completely absent. Neither MacArthur nor the Emperor (nor any of his generals) makes an appearance after the prologue. Instead, Westheimer focuses on low ranking officers, and even more so, on enlisted personal. The overall effect of this approach is a ground level view of the fighting that compliments the big picture portions of the text. At the same time, this close-in approach allows Westheimer to consider issues that would be discordant with a book focused on grand strategy. For example, the author considers a Marine who becomes convinced that he is killing the same Japanese soldier over and over again. Westheimer forces the reader to consider whether this is due to shellshock, or if it is a way of rationalizing the horror of killing one's fellow man.
Which brings me to another fascinating element of this novel: Westheimer's intuitive understanding of the causes of war, and particularly, the mindset of the American soldier. His ability to capture what unremitting hatred does to the Japanese, and the consequences that it has on the American soldier is remarkable. His writing is made even more profound in the light of 9/11 and our recent war against Iraq as he eloquently captures the motivation for fanatical, even suicidal, resistance, and the conflict that resistance causes in American soldiers who are at heart disinclined to kill unless it is absolutely necessary.
That said, Westheimer doesn't limit himself to consideration of combatants. His chapter covering a day in the life of a chaplain's assistant perfectly illustrates the contradictory nature of war in general, and the almost perverse naiveté with which America sometimes goes to war. At the same time, his descriptions of ordinary Japanese citizens, particularly women, and the dichotomy of what they see versus what they are told is superbly handled. Westheimer considers what it would be like to live in a world where the "divine" word of the Emperor is at direct odds with what one sees in their everyday life.
Ultimately, Westheimer has produced in "Death is Lighter Than a Feather" the rare alternate history that is historically accurate even as it is good fiction. From his descriptions of the ferocity of hand-to-hand combat, to the serenity of two lovers in a bamboo grove, the author displays a talent that is rare in authors of any genre. At the same time, he successfully ties these fascinating snapshots into a larger picture. Westheimer writes with authority on the invasion that never was, but he also considers war in general, and given the world in which we live, where kamikaze attacks have once again become the norm, it is perhaps more pertinent today then ever.
Jake Mohlman
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What might have been 5 Nov 2000
By D-Bo - Published on Amazon.com
An excellent, gripping novel of the invasion of Kyushu. With perspectives of both GIs hitting the beaches as well as Japanese soldiers waiting for them inland, this book provides a taut, well-paced view of what the war's last, great invasion would have been like.
Richard Frank's Downfall and John Skates' The Invasion of Japan provide an excellent framework of how the Japanese were planning on defending the Home Islands and how the Americans were planning on invading them. But Westheimer's book gives the reader the human touch. The fanatical Japanese training, so that surrender and retreat were not just disallowed, but unthinkable is especially brought home. But these are not cardboard cut-outs. You can understand WHY the average Japanese soldier comes to believe that "Duty is heavier than a mountain, while death is lighter than a feather."
If you want to know how "Olympic" would have been far, far worse in human terms than "Overlord," read this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read 16 Jun 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
A very compelling book that reads much like a series of interconnected short stories. The author sets up the "big picture" nicely then zooms down to describe the experiences of individual soldiers. Using this device, we see the invasion of Japan from both sides. The Japanese outlook is perhaps the most interesting as their belief in their eventual victory, despite the obvious evidence to the contrary, is alien to the Western mindset - as is their blind devotion to their superiors and their total dedication to a type of honor that requires death over surrender. Ironically, books such as this tends to make one think that atom bombs probably saved Japan as a nation for the death and destruction caused by an invasion would have killed millions of the Japanese population.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Alternate History Should Be Written! 15 Dec 2004
By Johnnie B. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What if the Atomic Bombs were not ready in 1945? The simple answer is Operation Downfall. This novel is about this epic battle that never was.

I wont belabor what has already been said. The writing is excellent. The weaving of grand strategy and the fate of individual Americans and Japanese is flawless. The analysis is solid. Enough said.

Two things I really like about this book that people havent really touched on are the use of characters in an alternate history novel and the authors' angle on the invasion v. A-Bomb debate.

The characters in most AH stories I have read have the dimensions of my grade school stick figure drawings. Theyre basically just there to make the move that would change history the way the author desires. Westheimer's characters are very deep and thought provoking. You become intrigued by them and want to know more and more.

There are a few books on the market that discuss potential invasions of Japan. Those that are not hyper technical treatises tend to be critiques of Truman's decision to nuke Japan. The normal theme is that US conspired to overplay the costs of invading Japan as an excuse to use atomic weapons. Mr. Westheimer does make a compelling case for the invasion to be relatively low cost (once the main defenses are breached there's little left but militia units made up of old men and schoolgirls armed with knives and pitchforks). However, he stays away from the conspiracy issue. This enhances the book by keeping the focus on the invasion (and people caught up in it).

I strongly urge Alternate History fans to read this novel. It is by far the best AH book Ive come across.
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