April 15, 1985 12:00 PM

by John Toland

There are few things that are more discouraging to a reader who is looking for a little pleasure than to discover at the beginning of a 600-page novel a list of 61 fictional characters and 42 historical personages. It means that in all probability, the author or some smart editor realized that the reader is going to have a tough time keeping the cast straight. Toland, author of such familiar nonfiction books on World War II in the Pacific theater as Infamy and The Rising Sun, starts this story in Tokyo in 1936. Two families, the McGlynns and the Todas, American and Japanese, have children who intermarry. There are several members of each family, needless to say, and between them they witness multiple aspects of the war. There is a tedious scene of President Roosevelt conferring with his advisers, and then all the notable events of the war are rolled out: Pearl Harbor, Corregidor, the march across Bataan, Saipan, Okinawa, Leyte and finally the bomb. One of the characters, Maggie McGlynn, is a war correspondent (some of her experiences are based on what happened in real life to journalist Dickey Chapelle). Maggie’s twin brother, Mark, a former Communist, enlists in the Marines and becomes a hero. Everybody seems to move through the plot like zombies. The author apparently is so determined to provide a huge panorama that he omits those eccentric, small details that serve to make fictional characters seem vivid. The only thing this curiously lifeless book does effectively is make a reader think, by way of invidious comparison, of the shock and thrill that came from Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and James Jones’ From Here to Eternity. Toland may have all his research down pat, but while there are more than enough facts in Gods of War, there’s no pain, no passion, no emotion. Utterly dismaying is a note at the end that “The saga of the McGlynns and the Todas will be continued…” Spare us. (Double-day, $17.95)

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