Picks and Pans Review: Share of Honor

updated 05/29/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/29/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Ralph Graves

By dedicating this readable, intricately constructed novel "To The Americans and Filipinos who endured the years 1941 to 1945—whether or not they survived," Graves sets his boundaries of scene and time: The Philippines, World War II.

The book begins in Manila, in October of '41, where wealthy, semiretired businessman Amos Watson is scorned by the American-Filipino establishment for his conviction that the Japanese may well win the war that all are sure will come. For a while after Pearl Harbor, it appears he may have been right. Soon, Japanese troops are parading into Manila, and the city's American and British residents, including Watson, are herded into Santo Tomas, the ancient university become a prison camp.

The war in the Philippines lasts four years, and Graves re-creates its every major event: MacArthur's flight, the fall of Bataan, the Death March, the brutal prison camps—Santo Tomas, O'Donnell, Cabanatuan. After the turn of the tide, there is the celebrated landing by a posturing MacArthur at Leyte in October 1944.

The novel's dramatic effect is diminished by its surplus of characters. There is Papaya, Amos Watson's young Filipino mistress, who sings for the Japanese in nightclubs and betrays them from the bed of Admiral Hitoshi Buto. There are Brad Stone, a teacher-turned-guerrilla; pretty Judy Ferguson, who fled Indiana to search for a rich husband; Maj. Jack Humphrey, clinging to hope on the Death March by writing his wife letters in his head; journalist Santiago Homobono, bartering gossip for survival. There are all the gallant clerks, secretaries, schoolboys and prisoners (among them Watson) who compose the anti-Japanese underground. No one figure or story line holds a reader's attention; the underlying tension—Who will die? Who will survive?—isn't strong enough.

But Graves, a veteran journalist and former editorial director of Time Inc., writes clear, lean prose that reflects both prodigious research and his own background. (The stepson of a U.S. High Commissioner, he grew up in the Philippines before the war.) And if Share of Honor falters as a novel in the conventional sense, as documentary fiction, as an account of the war in the Philippines, it is a very real success. (Holt, $19.95)

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