A singular life often circles around a singular moment, an occasion when one's life in the world is defined forever and the emotional vocabulary set. For the extraordinary writer James Salter, this moment was contained in the fighter planes over Korea where, during his young manhood, he flew more than one hundred missions. James Salter is considered one of America's greatest prose stylists. The Arm of Flesh (later revised and retitled Cassada) and his first novel, The Hunters, are legendary in military circles for their descriptions of flying and aerial combat. A former Air Force pilot who flew F-86 fighters in Korea, Salter writes with matchless insight about the terror and exhilaration of the pilot's life.
A splendid thing in a small package is this flying book compiled from several earlier works of fiction (including the great novel of Korean War aviation, The Hunters) and memoir, and from Salter's journals. Salter graduated from West Point in 1945 and went straight into the Army Air Force, later the U.S. Air Force. His training was not always smooth--he once lost his way over Pennsylvania and crashed into a house in Massachusetts. But he survived to qualify in fighters and to fly a tour of duty (100 missions) in Korea in F-86s, shooting down one MiG. After the war Salter flew fighters in Europe before resigning from the air force to embark upon a distinguished literary career. The text has excerpts from The Hunters; another novel about the European years, Cassada; his previous memoir Burning the Days; and an unpublished diary from the Korean tour. Although it's sometimes difficult to tell whose voice one is hearing, all the voices have a superb command of the English language and vividly depict the sensations and human interactions involved in flying.
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November 09, 2005
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