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Book Review: Turbulence by Giles Foden

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If you’re in the middle of a war, and you’re planning a major attack against your enemy, then presumably, you would want to know what the weather is going to be like, during the day you are planning on doing it, right? That is the core question in the latest book by Giles Foden, entitled Turbulence.

The story is centered on the character of Henry Meadows, a British meteorologist who grew up in Africa. His actions are followed as he tackles several tasks.

His first task is to befriend Wallace Ryman, a brilliant meteorologist, but who also happens to be a conscientious objector. The reason for this is that Ryman seems to be brilliant enough to have discovered the “Ryman number,” which supposedly predicts turbulence and other weather patterns with extreme precision. Obviously, such a mathematical equation is useful for wartime activities, so the British government wants to have it for their  use.

However, after a third of the novel, Ryman dies, accidentally, in Meadows’ hands. Thus, Meadows undertakes a second task, that is, doing research on heavy-duty bullet-resistant material. Again, he becomes part of the scientific arm of the British Army, but soon enough, this project is also shelved.

Finally, during the final third of the novel, he becomes a meteorologist again, and uses information he gathered from Ryman while he was alive, helping the Allied forces in planning when to hold D-Day, also known as the Invasion of Normandy.

That is pretty much the grand synopsis of the novel. As it is a historical novel, the reader knows the outcome of the story: D-Day happens in the end.

But Foden embedded extra little bits and pieces that only at the very end made sense to me. Every now and then, there would be brief journal entries that looked like sailing logs, navigational positions, and so forth, dated 1980.

The rest of the story, however, dates from 1944, in the months that lead to D-Day.

Only at the end did the combination make sense, and I think it is a neat trick by the author, adding a little dose of suspense in an otherwise well-known story.

The writing style was  engaging and intriguing. I found myself turning the pages one after another, noticing that my pace was quite fast. After all, the level of suspense was quite adequate in my opinion.

However, I failed to see a coherent whole. I felt like there were three stories that corresponded to the three phases of Henry Meadows’ life. I couldn’t discover an over-arching goal of the novel, aside from telling the story of Henry Meadows’ life. D-Day at the end just provided a convenient point to end the story.

That being said, I have to say that this is a well-researched book. I am an academic, and yet I think the technical and scientific details that are present in the book are accessible even by the lay-person.

Meteorology is a very complex topic, but it was quite easy to grasp just by reading this. I have to say that I have learned quite a bit about the topic just by reading this book.

So overall, I have enjoyed reading this book, but perhaps I would not miss it, if I happen to pick something else.

I am giving this book three out of five stars.

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