4 out of 4 stars
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Set in Japan during the Korean War, Luther Robison's The Brass Rail refers to the small tavern where an ensemble of Air Force and Army patrons blow off steam. The story follows Andy Anderson and the relationships he forms during his time enlisted.
For the past year, Andy has been stationed at the nearby base, and the tavern has become his second home. Run by the elegant and efficient Mama-san and the young female locals she employs, the hangout is frequented by both recently enlisted men as well as a group of older WWII soldiers whose ranks have been reduced due to various misdemeanors. One of them, Sargeant Butler, is a former captain with a tendency to drink too much. When he goes missing, Andy and his friend, Mel, are assigned the task of finding him. As the story unfolds, Andy learns more about the different people he's met. Friendships and bonds are forged that transcend the end of the war.
The book is well-written and fast-paced. I must confess that plots that are primarily war-related are not usually my cup of tea. In this instance, though the story is set during the Korean War with the expected wartime references, the plot is mostly relationship-driven by the strong characters the author skillfully weaves throughout the multilayered storyline.
In fact, what I like most about this book is its cast of complex characters that drive the plot. The protagonist, Andy, is a Colorado farm boy who joined the Air Force to avoid being drafted by the Army. His side-kick, Mel, comes from a wealthy family in Philadelphia, though he doesn't receive any financial help from home. Their first impression of Sargeant Butler is that of a washed-up reservist who drinks too much. However, they soon learn the older soldier has an impressive history. Likewise, the owner of the tavern, Mama-san, has a secret past as well. Then, there's Remmey, the first friend Andy made traveling to Japan on the USNS General Howze; Remmey may be the biggest mystery of them all. Though all of the characters are not as likable as Andy, they are well-developed and relatable.
The book is exceptionally edited as I didn't note any errors. Also, considering that there were multiple characters with backstories, the plot flows smoothly without the inconsistencies or gaps in the timeline that sometimes result with plural storylines. Additionally, I found no other area to highlight for improvement. Therefore, I am pleased to rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend it to readers who enjoy war-related historical fiction. However, since the plot is more focused on relationships than the actual war, it may also appeal to a wider audience including those interested in the Japanese culture and customs.
The Brass Rail
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