Rumors of War
Deseret Book , 1997. Hardcover:
Suggested retail price: $16.95 (US)
Rumors of War chronicles the beginning of the Second World War as seen through the eyes of a Utah family, the Thomases of Sugar House, and a German family, the Stolzes of Frankfurt. Their day-to-day struggles are lived against the larger context of the tyranny of Hitler's Germany, of the approaching war, and the Church's dilemma at having its world membership swept up against each other by world war.
Rumors of War, first in Hughes' projected Children of the Promise series is not great literature, and I won't try to pretend otherwise. It is, however, something just as rare in the LDS publishing market: good fiction.
Dean Hughes tells a Mormon story for a Mormon audience, using our religious and cultural heritage (and foibles) as tellingly and effectively as Leon Uris or Herman Wouk use that of the Jews. Indeed, the comparison is inescapable so I won't even try. Hughes' new novel from Deseret Books is the Mormon equivalent of Herman Wouk's Winds of War.
Rumors of War, quite simply, is a true breakthrough novel in the field of popular LDS literature. Hughes has found the formula of writing faithful LDS literature -- fiction that succeeds in being just as faithful to the precepts of good storytelling as to the Gospel.
His Mormons characters are Mormons. They do Mormons things for Mormon reasons. They react as Mormons do. When they are in trouble, they pray (and receive answers), they call upon their priesthood for blessings, they seek guidance from Church leaders. In Hughes' fiction, the world works the way Mormons believe it does: God lives and directly intervenes in the affairs of men. Yet Hughes is able to tell his story without preaching, without expository correlation. He simply tells the story. The actions and thoughts and beliefs of his characters are simply part of the narrative flow.
LDS popular fiction has been criticized for not giving their characters anything more than shallow or superficial problems. I am not one for pushing the envelope simply to push the envelope. I did, however, find myself on several occasions while reading Rumors of War saying to myself, "I can't believe Deseret Book published this book!" -- and cheering on Deseret Books' decision to go ahead and publish this book. The problems given the characters are not shallow, not superficial. Attempted rape, prostitution, Gestapo torture -- these definitely are not shallow problems. Yet Hughes is able to deal with these issues with the decorum and sensitivity to his target audience that won't offend them, yet allows present these as real problems for his characters. Hughes explores the changing role of women in Mormon society, the limits and bounds of a family patriarch's authority, the potential conflicts of learning and faith, marriage outside the Church, Utah politics, and differing approaches and personal beliefs of the General Authorities.
Hughes' secret, in some measure, is to step outside our world today, choose another time period. But not one so far away that we can't relate to the characters and their world. The early Saints and Pioneers have become nearly unapproachable. We hold them in too high esteem, especially in this Sesquicentennial year, to admit or believe they had doubts and foibles. Today is too uncomfortable for us admit that all is not well in Zion. The period of the Second World War was an excellent choice. Through the shared memories of film and television, the war era is somewhat real for us, but not too real. Moreover, the Second World War (or, rather, its aftermath) was the major turning point of the Church in this century. In sending its memberships around the world to first fight, then guard the peace, missionary work, and the Church, truly became worldwide.
Hughes is an excellent historical fiction author; as a fellow practitioner, it is clear to me that he loves the genre. He loves researching the minutiae and slipping it into the story, but never obtrusively. His historical details, as do his Mormon details, blend smoothly into the narrative flow. His characters live in a Utah of Walgreen's and the Doo Drop Inn. Of a University of Utah still "of" Utah and not at war with it. Of a Church where missionaries serve two-and-a-half year foreign missions, where college women still attend Gleaners, where members still have personal contact with apostles.
The book is rich in detail, authentic in voice, and well written. For my money, Hughes is as good a stylist, as good a storyteller as any national author of today's potboiler school of summer bestsellerdom.
LDS literature may still be waiting for those Miltons and Shakespeares of our own Orson Whitney promised us, but in Dean Hughes we have found our Leon Uris and Herman Wouk.
© 1997 Lee Allred