“Still he could see a time when these years he was living now would seem different, when he could laugh at the men he’d known in the platoon and remember the way the jungle and the hills sometimes looked in the dawn. He might even want the kind of tension there was in stalking a man. It was stupid. He hated this. He hated it more than anything he had ever done and yet if he lived he knew that in the end he might turn mellow. The magnifying glass on the gold grains.” – The Naked and the Dead
Norman Mailer is renowned in the American literary canon. Born into a Jewish family in 1923 in New Jersey, he was as prolific with his pen as he was in his decisions to marry. The Naked and the Dead was his first novel to be published. Inspired by Mailer’s own experience of military service and written at the age of 23, The Naked and the Dead is regarded one of the best accounts of the World War II to come out of the United States.
The story follows a platoon of American soldiers sent with others to the fictional Pacific island of Anopopei. They have been commanded to rid the island of Japanese soldiers. Mailer goes into minute detail about the living conditions the soldiers must deal with and their quotidian activities. Each member of the platoon is presented to the reader using a device Mailer calls the “Time Machine” where he delves into the soldier’s past in order to better understand his behaviour. He also lays bare the disparity between how high ranking officials experience conflict and the way their subordinates do.
Mailer does not idealise any aspect of the war. However, in an interview with the New Yorker in October 1948 he emphasised that The Naked and the Dead was a novel that offered a hopeful perspective: “I intended it to be a parable about the movement of man through history. I tried to explore the outrageous propositions of cause and effect, of effort and recompense, in a sick society. The book finds man corrupted and confused to the point of helplessness, but it also finds that even in his corruption and sickness there are yearnings for a better world.” People must survive and improve the environment they inhabit despite the suffering they endure.
It took me 6 months of finish The Naked and the Dead, hence why I have paired it with Reine Claude (Greengage) plums, one of my favourite summer fruits. These small plums are fragrant and sweet when ripe. They make me nostalgic for blue skies and days of emptiness and freedom.