cover image Burning the Days: Recollection

Burning the Days: Recollection

James Salter. Random House (NY), $24 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50015-2

Members of a generation nearing its end are passing along memoirs that remind Americans how innocent life was before 1945, how grand immediately after. And Salter commands a position near the head of this class for his unfaltering skill as a writer and intuitive sensitivity as a chronicler of human relationships. Though he fought in Korea, not WWII, he describes the same postwar euphoria that existed when Americans felt beloved by the world. The bulk of this brilliant memoir recounts the 1940s, '50s and '60s, when Salter was a fighter pilot, then a novelist (Light Years) and writer of screenplays. Combat missions and military culture (Salter graduated from West Point) are described in detail, along with the exotic locales of his Air Force career: the American Midwest, Asia, North Africa. But it is Europe that still enthralls him, and the pages recounting his friendships there with ""performers whom the years had yet to deplume"" (Irwin Shaw, Roman Polanski) are the most heartrending. Salter fans will recognize the theme of once mighty worlds decaying to insignificance. Everything in this book is colored with the sweet sadness of loss--loss of friends, lovers and dreams. Salter writes about tragedy and regret with irresistible eloquence. (Sept.)