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This description may be from another edition of this product. The lives of officers in an Air Force squadron in occupied Europe encompass the contradictions of military experience and the men's response to a young newcomer, bright and ambitious, whose fate is to...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A Classic by James Salter

While not the very best by Salter, it is still a classic. No one writes like James Salter.

Fathers and Sons

Cassada is not quite a new novel. On the other hand it's not a revision of an old novel either. Instead it's a complete rewriting of an earlier novel, The Arm of Flesh, published in 1961. It has no major characters, although there are, in Isbell and Dunning, two fine contenders. But these men aren't given the space to carry the story when Salter revisits the handful of men under their command in the 44th Fighter Squadron, stationed in Giebelstadt, West Germany, in the nineteen-fifties. In writing about flying, Salter is amazing, just as he was in his memoir, Burning the Days, but in Cassada he's hampered by his attempts to marry an aristocratic and elegiac lyrical style to the terse thriller-like dialogue of the American pilots as they sit drinking in German bars or get into fights high up in the sky with the "crazy Canucks." He's better, really, at marrying the meteorological to the lyrical: "A wind was blowing, a German October wind, chilly, with points of moisture in it." There are many other extraordinary passages, thoughts, and cameo portraits in Cassada. A plane taking off from the base airfield seems to be "fleeing from a roar that washes over the field like a furnace thrown open"; the wife of the squadron leader is described as "grey-eyed and unknowable though not shy", while Captain Isbell, admiring one of the younger pilots, states his creed: "Show me a man who knows how to lie, he thought, and I'll show you a smile of genuine beauty. I'll show you someone who knows how the world turns." There are a number of startlingly clunky moments as well, surprising in a writer of Salter's superb gifts, along with occasional bits of nightclub dialogue that seem to have been lifted straight out of a B-movie, and because Cassada is, although condensed, so bent on veering towards the panoramic, it seems never to quite work as a whole, marvellous though several of its parts manage to be. Cassada, its hero--although "hero" is not quite the right word for a kind of Icarus whose hubris leads him to fall from the sky--is a character Salter doesn't give much time or attention to, his real affection being confined not only to Dunning and Isbell, but also to Lieutenant Godchaux, Dunning's favourite of the young pilots, who is eventually lured into an affair by Dunning's wife, Mayann. Here's how Salter, that eternal romantic, ends their progression from mutual shyness to their taking a hotel room in the Porta Nigra for a few hours of love in the afternoon: "It was there, not only on that day but on a number thereafter, that Lancelot, aware of the danger, went with his queen." Although there are quick but emotionally affecting portraits of a few of the air force wives (particularly of Isbell's wife Marian, and of Mayann) Cassada most concerns itself with the world of older men--men who've had punitive but superior educations at West Point--doling out praise or blame to younger men. It's a tense world of non-biological fathers and sons, a world of inst


I had never heard of James Salter... from the first page I knew I had made an investment of extraordinary value.Yes, it's about flying, but more than that, it's about the people in and around the airplanes. Writing about a piece of aluminum with an engine in front of it will keep my attention for a page, and that's it, but with Salter we get a master story teller who gets behind the machinery and into the heart and soul of everyone involved.It's almost scary, and its also a masterpiece.I read it in one sitting, I couldn't put it down, and was emotionally drained by the last page.There wasn't one scene, one sentence that didn't fell right on.Now I hae to find out what else Salter has written, he's that good!

dangerous reading

Reading Salter is a high risk sport. Every sentence is a step into the unknown. Each one is a potential hazard. Whether he writes about flying fighter-jets, or about a marriage ("Light Years"), or an unforgettable lay ("A Sport and a Pastime"). One reason for this, and it makes Salter's writing inimitable, is that every sentence is perfect to the point where it seems to exist in a vacuum. Stepping from one to the other, you face nothingness. Maybe that's what people mean when they say that his writing is "ecstatic." Salter's sentences are objects of beauty. It still makes not one of them harmless. Some of them will stay with you forever. That's part of the risk. "Cassada" is a rewriting of an earlier novel (which I have not read). It's somewhat cinematic structure - juxtaposing tense chapters in which an avoidable disaster unremittingly unfolds, and chapters which proceed, in orderly chronological flash-backs, to tell about the hero's insertion into a fighter squadron, and to flesh out characters and relationships, firmly situates the book as a production of the Sixties. While the crisis itself seemingly develops out of external circumstances - the weather, materiel failure, multi-level goofing - its tragic outcome is set up in those flash-back chapters where Cassada, a perfectly decent sort, ambitious, umbrageous, a bit too refined, is given a hard time by his comrades and superiors, and most of all by Salter himself who, intent on not letting him acquire heroic dimension, puts him through one humiliating situation after another. The pettiness, triteness of the life of the squadron, the frailty of its members, conveyed serenely, pitilessly, à la Salter, make it clear that the book is not intent on a celebration of the human spirit. You won't find a shred of sentimentality here. Yet, in the unbelievably gripping last chapters, the ultimate little nudge which brings about the tragedy will come, not from the nastiness, but from the feelings of friendship and esteem, often unspoken, from the slight excess of loyalty which, at the moment of truth, they call forth. Love is the surest killer (the leitmotiv in Salter's work). When life or death is a matter of split second decisions, any human impulse is fatefully magnified - a point which flying is ideally suited to illustrate. None of the protagonists, or the investigating commission, is ever likely to know the true cause of the death of the Hero, nor how exactly it came to happen, but we do, and it makes the novel singularly satisfying. Because flying remains the emblematic human breakthrough of the 20th century, and because Salter is one of the century's masters of the language, "Cassada" cannot escape the fate of becoming a classic. For the pure ecstacy of the flying experience, though, you must read "Burning the Days," Salter's autobiography.

An inside look at a 1950's Fighter Squadron

"Cassada," is a re-write by James Salter, of his highly acclaimed 1961 novel, "The Arm of Flesh." I have always considered "The Arm of Flesh, " the best book I have ever read about the interpersonnal relationships within an Air Force Fighter Squadron, and I was a fighter pilot one for twenty years. Even though some major changes have been made in plot and some characters in "Cassada," the story still retains that ellusive element of putting you there, as a participant, or observer. The story opens with a missed approach to the home base in Germany, by two of the squadron aircraft in terrible weather conditions, and through beatufully paced flashbacks, the story fills in and unfolds to a gripping climax. If you enjoy reading about military aviation, I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you just enjoy superb writing, I still can't recommend this book highly enough. It is a winner!
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