Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island

Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island by John Bruning

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island:

This was no island vacation.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the U.S. Marine pilots at Guadalcanal in World War II.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

In 1942, a filet mignon was only $1.90 in D.C. restaurants.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Brewster, a plane manufacturer, had about $1 million in sales in 1939. By 1942 it would be $370 million.

My Take on Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island:

John Bruning’s Fifty-Three Days on Starvation Island mirrors its subject matter by seeming to stall before taking off. This is a very well-written book with one particular peculiarity. Let me start with my major criticism but be advised that this book is very good.

The narrative is about U.S. Marine pilots on Guadalcanal. All World War II buffs know about it and, if you don’t, trust me it was a big deal. The book starts with a prologue set during the Battle of Midway. So far, so good. Midway would lead to Guadalcanal. Then, inexplicably, Part I of the book takes six chapters to cover a homecoming tour for three of the characters in the book set after Guadalcanal. I have read many books which do a flash forward to set a scene or to highlight certain aspects of a character. I have never seen it used for some much page length. It also doesn’t set anything up that you won’t find in the rest of the book. This entire part could be eliminated from the book, and it would improve.

Yes, I spilled a lot of ink on my criticism of the book, but you may be wondering why I am rating it as very good then. Quite simply, Bruning’s prose and focus when the narrative reaches Guadalcanal is exceptional. In fact, the chapters I think could be cut are also well-written and interesting. They are just badly misplaced in the narrative. Bruning is laser focused on the characters when they get to battle and the frenetic energy he describes is palpable.

Many World War II books fall into the trap of trying to write about the entire war while telling a smaller story at its core. Bruning gives the reader the bare minimum about the greater war and keeps engaged with only the characters at the heart of his story. Yes, the first few chapters threw me off, but I was very happy I kept going. The journey was worth it.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Hachette Books.)


A very good World War II story even with a slight misfire. Buy it here!

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