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Reviews of The Oceans and the Stars by Mark Helprin

The Oceans and the Stars

A Sea Story, A War Story, A Love Story (A Novel)

by Mark Helprin

The Oceans and the Stars by Mark Helprin X
The Oceans and the Stars by Mark Helprin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2023, 512 pages

    Paperback:
    Oct 29, 2024, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

Mark Helprin, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Winter's Tale and A Soldier of the Great War, presents a fast-paced, beautifully written novel about the majesty of the sea; a life dedicated to duty, honor, and country; and the gift of falling in love.

A Navy captain near the end of a decorated career, Stephen Rensselaer is disciplined, intelligent, and determined to always do what's right. In defending the development of a new variant of warship, he makes an enemy of the president of the United States, who assigns him to command the doomed line's only prototype––Athena, Patrol Coastal 15––with the intent to humiliate a man who should have been an admiral.

Rather than resign, Rensselaer takes the new assignment in stride, and while supervising Athena's fitting out in New Orleans, encounters a brilliant lawyer, Katy Farrar, with whom he falls in last-chance love. Soon thereafter, he is deployed on a mission that subjects his integrity, morality, and skill to the ultimate test, and ensures that Athena will live forever in the annals of the Navy.

As in the Odyssey, Katy is the force that keeps him alive and the beacon that lights the way home through seven battles, mutiny, and court martial. In classic literary form, an enthralling new novel that extolls the virtues of living by the laws of conscience, decency, and sacrifice, The Oceans and the Stars is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Prologue
Hampton Roads, Winter

Snow falling upon water makes a sound so close to silence that no heart exists it cannot calm. It fell across the Chesapeake and in the harbors and inlets and far out to sea, surrendering to the waters with the slightest exhalation and a muffled hiss. Though few are there to see it, in winter this happens often.

In the construction and maintenance of warships in Virginia's Tidewater, now veiled in steady snow, engines throbbed, cranes swivelled, and barges plodded over black waters. The spacious anchorage of Hampton Roads is ringed by naval stations, air bases, and shipyards making up the largest concentration of naval might in existence. Interwoven with civilian cities and commercial waterways, this sinew of steel is a world of its own. Even so, its powerful present cannot overwhelm images that upwell from the past: the sails of the French fleet in surprising bloom off Yorktown; the Monitor battling the Merrimack; and within living memory the Battle of ...

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Reviews

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It does have its flaws, some serious enough that many readers may put it aside before reaching its real meat – which is found about halfway through this relatively long book. While the beautiful descriptions add a lovely dimension to the narrative, they also slow it down; it's basically too much of a good thing, and it gets tiresome after a while. The author also goes to great lengths to describe ships and armaments. It's something naval enthusiasts will likely love but most readers will find tedious. Although those are fairly major complaints, the second half of The Oceans and the Stars makes up for those issues; indeed, if I were to grade the book just on its latter portion it would be a five-plus-star read for me and I'd be raving about it...continued

Full Review Members Only (758 words)

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

New York Journal of Books
A grand epic ... every situation is thoroughly set up, providing technical how and emotional why, intellectual why, political why. No blind corners here, no unreliable narrators ... Inspirational.

Quarterdeck Magazine
Mark Helprin's brilliant, swiftly paced epic—a sea, war, and love story—is a moral statement for our time, taking its place in literary history alongside James Jones' From Here to Eternity and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead.

National Review
Helprin's love letter to the old Navy and all the old virtues that it relied upon to protect our great country and give us peace and the opportunity for a good life ... Throughout the novel, we learn that seemingly impossible acts of bravery and courage are possible and are remembered in the annals of eternity.

Booklist (starred review)
Helprin excels at creating three-dimensional characters, and Rensselaer is a man of high moral character driven by a deep sense of humanity with a Shakespearean reference always at the ready. Helprin masterfully blends adrenaline and heart while the plot pieces fall into place like tumblers in a lock. Military aficionados will appreciate detailed descriptions of weaponry and tactics, while lovers of exquisite prose will be captivated by Rensselaer's profundity.

Kirkus Reviews
War, love, and the sea intermix in this novel of bravery and conscience ... the action is terrific ... Fans of war stories and nautical tales will enjoy this one.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) Navy

IRGC speedboats in the water flying the Iranian flagThe plot of Mark Helprin's novel The Oceans and the Stars imagines the United States at war with Iran. At one point the heroes of the book end up in the Indian Ocean searching for an Iranian vessel, ultimately battling a force the US captain refers to as the NEDSA, the naval arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Eslami, aka the IRGC, also referred to as the Pasdaran or the Sepah).

Iran has two independent military organizations. The first, the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, Artesh-e Jomhouri-ye Eslami-ye Iran or simply Artesh, pre-dates the 1979 Iranian Revolution and is responsible for defending the country's borders against external threats and maintaining internal order. It's considered a ...

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