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Each of the four books reviewed today discusses a separate, fairly distinct area of human experience in World War II. Aaron Elson's book comprises interviews with combat veterans, largely revolving around his father's tank battalion. Marjorie Wong explains the story of Chinese Canadians who served in the Allied armed forces. Rhonda Sonnenberg sets herself the task of tracing the lives of six famous writers during the war years. And Claire Swedberg recounts the tales of five individuals taken prisoner by their enemies. All in all, an eclectic and unusual set of books.
Elson, Aaron. A Mile in Their Shoes: Conversations with Veterans of World War II. Maywood, NJ: Chi Chi Press, 1998.
Preface; photos; Acknowledgments
Appendices: "A Churchgoing Man"; Letter to Dr Eckstam
Aaron Elson's father served in the 712th Tank Battalion in France and Germany, and his two previous books have focused on the veterans of that unit. This new book widens its point of view to include a broader view of individual experiences. Angelo Crapanzano was aboard an LST which was torpedoed during Exercise Tiger; he survived and managed to save a shipmate by keeping him afloat all night. Pete De Vries served in the 82nd Airborne and was wounded in Normandy and the Bulge. Ed Boccafogli and Lou Putnoky, and Clifford Merrill and all the others have their own stories to tell.
Elson leaves the stories in the words of the veterans, interspersing them with his own questions and occasional brief explanations. Each veteran sounds like an old uncle and each story rolls along with detours into half-forgotten territory, jokes and quips worn smooth from fifty years of telling, comfortable pauses for fresh coffee and cigarettes, and the soft, sad memories of friends and days long lost.
Wong, Marjorie. The Dragon and the Maple Leaf: Chinese Canadians in World War II. London, Ontario: Pirie Publishing, 1994.
Foreword; Acknowledgements; Introduction; photos; maps; Abbreviations and Glossary; Bibliography; Index.
Appendices: Chinese Canadian Veterans
Marjorie Wong has assembled much material here to tell the full story of Chinese Canadians fighting in the armed services around the globe: Hong Kong (where Canada lost a brigade of two battalions) and China; Allied air forces; Allied navies; the Canadian Army; "S-20 Japanese Language School" (the belief in many armies apparently being that anyone who could learn Chinese could easily master Japanese); and special operations in Southeast Asia.
The book is made up largely of personal accounts of when and where enlisted, training, and shipping out, the lot being liberally illustrated with photos, documents, insignia, and maps. Self-published, quite unusual, and perhaps the only book on the subject.
Sonnenberg, Rhonda. Still We Danced Forward: World War II and the Writer's Life. Washington, DC: Brassey's, 1998.
Acknowledgments; Introduction; photos; Notes; Bibliography; Index.
Rhonda Sonnenberg is a writer who writes of the lives of writers against the backdrop of World War II. In her highly literate biographies of Thomas Mann, John Steinbeck, Virginia Wolf, Colette, Ernest Hemingway, and Ezra Pound she weaves together the authors, their work, and the ever-present thunder of war. Virginia Wolf completes her biography of Roger Fry and with her husband contemplates a suicide pact in the event of a German occupation. Ernest Hemingway works as a war correspondent but prefers to be known as a colonel. Ezra Pound rages into institutionalization, indictment for treason, and creeping senility. Some existed as though hidden indoors while the war raged outside like a tumultuous storm. Others rushed outdoors to lift their faces to the downpour.
A departure from unit histories and accounts of combat, but still very much a book about war and wartime.
Swedberg, Claire. In Enemy Hands: Personal Accounts of Those Taken Prisoner in World War II. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997.
Acknowledgments; Introduction; Prologue; photos; Epilogue; Bibliography.
Work Commando 311/I, Claire Swedberg's previous book about World War II, was the surprisingly effective and popular story of "American Paratroopers Become Forced Laborers for the Nazis". In her new book, Swedberg pursues the theme of captives and prisoners, bringing us the stories of five imprisoned individuals.
Oscar Smith survived the Bataan Death March and then three and a half years of forced labor and starvation in the Philippines and Japan. Robert Salmon, a Briton, was incarcerated in Shanghai for the duration in conditions more boring than ghastly. Edward Uzemack was captured during the Battle of the Bulge and spent the remainder of the war in a German stalag. At fifteen and with two weeks of military training, Hermann Pfrengle was captured by American troops at the end of the war while fleeing the dreaded Soviets, but finds his captors not as merciful as he had hoped. Helga Wunsch was arrested by the Soviets as a spy when the war ended and imprisoned for eight years.
Each of these stories -- gathered from personal interviews and original memoirs -- is told thoughtfully and respectfully to illustrate the will to survive and the triumph of the spirit in even the most difficult conditions.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the various publishers.
Thanks to the publishers for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 5 April 1998
Copyright © 1998 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone
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