Appel, Allen. Till the End of Time.

NY: Doubleday, 1990.

The third book of this excellent time-travel trilogy — which turned out not be the last in what became a series, though it certainly felt like it at the time — puts Alex Balfour in the thick of World War II in the Pacific, beginning with Pearl Harbor and ending with ground zero at Hiroshima.

The supporting characters this time include not only FDR and “Wild Bill” Donovan, but Betty Grable, Albert Einstein, Julia Child, John F. Kennedy, and Orson Welles. The moral dilemmas have to do with xenophobia, the psychological function of hate, and the nature of both killing and revenge. The chapters in which Alex, stuck on a Pacific island with the Marine Raiders and a horde of Japanese, overcomes his natural fears and becomes a dead-eyed killer are especially harrowing. So are his experiences following the dropping of the first atomic bomb. And, after three volumes in which we develop a high regard for the main characters, the ending of this one is most unsettling, even upsetting. But history isn’t “fair.”

Appel’s strength comes from his knowledge of the minutiae of history, which adds fascinating verisimilitude and keeps the reader’s attention in the best way. The real historical figures who pop up unexpectedly were, in fact, really there. The alternative explanations Appel offers for certain historical events are quite plausible, most of them having been advanced by historians at one time or another. The author also has a real knack for making us care about his characters, and he certainly has a wonderful way with words. He understands genuine emotion, too, as shown in the last couple of chapters as Alex struggles with the new realities in his life.

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