Genre

Historical Fiction, Romance

Audience

Adult Catholics

Author’s Worldview

Catholic

Year Published

2023

Themes

Relationships, Purpose, Existence of God, World War II, Catholic Faith, Suffering, Philosophy, Time, Death, Japanese Internment Camps

 

Reviewed by

Theresa Frodin

North Pacific is a story of a middle-aged man, Joseph, who at the onset of World War II finally thought he found a little bit of happiness. Her name was Miku. She was a Japanese American, and she loved him too. However, to Joseph’s devastation, Miku disappeared the summer before Pearl Harbor is bombed; he searched for her in vain. In his ongoing search for her, he questions the faith of his childhood.

Most of the story takes place in Tacoma, Washington, where Joseph was born and raised. His two-story abode overlooks the bay in Tacoma, Washington where he often watches ships arrive and depart from the harbor of Puget Sound. The coming and going of these ships paint a vivid picture of time marching on for Joseph. The passing of time is something that Joseph feels deeply. Still in Tacoma, with no family, and seemingly no prospects for one, he wonders about where his life has gone and where it is going.

Joseph, an officer in the United States Naval Reserve and with a Ph.D. in history, is assigned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to join the crew of USS Charleston, the flagship for the Alaska sector, to serve as an acting Lieutenant. He is to also record the war of the north Pacific in real time. Eventually he is transferred to another ship, which ends up hitting a Japanese floating mine. The blast throws Joseph off the ship into the frigid waters of the Pacific where he sustains a permanent physical disability. This disability, further, discourages him in his life back in Tacoma.

As he struggles with his injury, the war, the morality of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the existence of the Japanese Internment Camps, he further wrestles with the question of the existence of God. He looks to the memory of his parents, the Catholic Church, friends, lovers, alcohol, and philosophy, hoping to find the depth that his heart aches for.

The book is unabashedly Catholic. Scripture precedes every section, and the story itself explores the beauty of the Catholic faith, presenting it throughout as being the solution to the struggles of human nature. The book has devotional and catechismal moments throughout.  Joseph’s family slogan is: “Slava Isusu Khrystus! – Glory to Jesus Christ!” Catholic readers of North Pacific will appreciate the vital role that Mass, the sacraments and redemptive suffering play in this story. 

However, word of warning: the author does present sexual vices that Joseph needs to work through. “But every man is tempted by his own concupiscence.” (James 1:14) Initially, the Catholic faith gives Joseph the strength to endure his sufferings, but when he is unable to rise above the sensual comforts of fornication, his belief in the true presence of Christ and the contradictions that arise in his soul repel him from even entering a church. This goes on for a few years. Steffan artfully treats this subject in a realistic way and without glorifying Joseph’s actions. Steffan, in his storytelling, portrays the Church’s position, as well as demonstrates the spiritual, psychological, physical, and social effects of mortal sin. One such effect for Joseph is his also falling into alcoholism – which further complicates his ability to be the man that he knows he can be. Due to the nature of Joseph’s sins, this story may not be appropriate for all readers. Sex scenes are described indirectly: “She began kissing Joseph and pressed her body against his. Again, he succumbed to her warmth and sensualness. It wasn’t hard.” Joseph eventually repents to the point where he does not lapse back into this lifestyle. “… Joseph experienced ‘that moment’. There is an instance after receiving the Sacrament of Penance that Catholics experience. It is one of total joy… There is no feeling like it in the world.”

Although throughout the story Steffan addresses redemptive suffering, some readers may wish to see a clearer application of it in the challenges that Joseph faces especially after his coming back to the faith. However, it’s universal presentation may have been intentional on Steffan’s part to continually portray Joseph in an ordinary way.  Like many Catholics, Joseph hopes for miracles in his own life, or for God to just tell him what to do, but despite his faith, and countless prayers, he has resigned himself to not experiencing God in a clear way – at least not in the direct way the saints seemed to have.

I recommend North Pacific for those interested in reading about loss; the beauty of the Catholic faith when happiness is wanting; and a journey of trusting God when life doesn’t make sense.

*All quotes taken from North Pacific.*

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