Days of Smoke is a compelling story of an aviator soldier who is caught up in his love of combat flying, at the cost of participating in one of history's most egregious events. He is a metaphor for an entire generation of Germans that becomes trapped, literally, in a moral tug of war between duty, honor, country, and bestiality.
The book is told, in tight vignettes, through the eyes of the principal character, a young Luftwaffe officer who was born to fly the awesome, beautiful Messerschmitt on the book's cover. Any pilot who has been in combat knows that the serious business of war lends an edge to flying that cannot be replicated when the shooting stops. Our man is caught up in this life of constant adrenalin rush, but terribly conflicted by his participation in an unforgivable political horror that his own actions are contributing to. He represents much of the German military at the time, victims of a social tsunami that overwhelmed them quickly, and viciously. Professionals who got much more than they bargained for when they donned their uniforms, they are stranded on a road to national ruin, unwitting participants in a holocaust of genocide that serves only to slake the hatred of their mad leader. Our main character has a Jewish soul mate throughout the story, a love that is to be gratified in almost fairy tale fashion. This aspect of the book adds a human element to the warrior personality of our hero, and is representative of what too few realized during that terrible, barbaric war. There were not many happy endings. The author does not shy away from the gut bleeding inhumanity of the Holocaust, a topic whose message bears repeating until the end of time. While a well constructed novel, this is a book of historical fiction that addresses several niches in the many pages of World War Two, and does it with well researched accuracy.
This reviewer's father flew with the Army Air Corps in WW2, and Korea. He was trained by the Royal Air Force in the early days of 1943, before the United States had its' own training program in full gear. As a child, and military brat, I was immersed in the lore of airplanes of that war, and I was surrounded by my father's friends, who had also flown in combat. My god father, a P-51 pilot, was shot down by a swarm of German Messerschmitts, and spent over a year in a POW camp on the North Sea. I lived in Germany for 3 years as a teenager, and spent another year there as a young army officer, before heading off to my own war in Vietnam. So, familiar bells, and whistles started sounding in my head as I began Mark Ozeroff's book, Days of Smoke, a story of strong young warriors who flew fast planes, precisely, and professionally in a manner unique to the German mind, and military discipline of that time. I am not sure if the author was writing in a German accent, or, I was hearing it as a result of my own past, but, either way, it lent an authentic air to the story, as did the author's command of the most minute details of the various aircraft in this story.
So, a young man responds honorably to the calling of a country which fails him, and its' people, and is brutally tested. But, in the process he finds love, and keeps his moral focus. He is beat up, and drained, but he never forgets the feel of the stick of a mighty war plane in his hand, as he soars through the heavens as a young man, yet to lose his innocence. The feel of those controls is, happily, satisfyingly replaced by the love of a family that odds should have denied him. Read this book if you are a history buff looking for technical accuracy, a person who believes in the basic goodness of the human heart, a military man, or, better yet, an aviator, and if you are lucky, watch it on the movie screen some day. I will send this book to a lot of people who, like I, will turn the pages deep into the night.
Reviewed by: Bob Flournoy (2010)
Days of Smoke offers a mold-shattering view of war and Holocaust, from the unique perspective of German flyer Hans Udet. Across aerial battlefields ranging over much of Europe, Hans progresses from naive young Messerschmitt pilot to ace of increasing rank and responsibility. But unfolding events pit Hans' love of the Fatherland against his natural compassion for humanity, after he saves a young Jewish woman from brutal assault. As growing feelings for Rachel sensitize him to the "Jewish problem," Hans is torn between mounting disdain for the Nazis and his sense of duty to Germany. Rachel is the unlikely bridge joining his disparate halves.