Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

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I was looking for a new audio book through my online library system and this one was available. I hadn’t seen the movie because I wasn’t sure I wanted to see a POW movie (maybe too intense) but I thought listening to the book might work.

Stats: Published in 2010, print is 473 pages, audio is about 14 hours, read by Edward Herrmann.

Blurb: On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

What I liked: Like all good non-fiction, it “read” like a fictional story, which is quite the accomplishment with such a long story. It helps that it’s such an amazing story, it keeps your interest the whole time, if you can stomach some of it, that is. What those men endured on the life raft and in the Japanese prison camps was hard to fathom. It was also very interesting learning what happened to some of the survivors – especially Louis Z. Listening to Edward Herrmann was a pleasure.

What I didn’t like: It was a bit long. Could some of the beginning been cut a bit? Perhaps. Even though the time in the camps was hard to listen to at times, it isn’t anything you can (or should) cut. It was frustrating to hear what happened to some of the guards at the prison, most notably “the bird” – the guard out to get Louis. But it is what it is.

Rating: 4/5

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

 

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

I had heard about this book, so when I saw the audio version at the library, I picked it up.

Stats: Audio is 9 discs – 11 hours. Narrated by Feodor Chin. The print book is 290 pages, published in 2009.

Blurb: In 1986, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remembers a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s—Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family were evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry could only hope that their promise to each other would be kept. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel’s basement for the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.

What I liked: The story does a good job of illustrating a sad time in US history, making it more personal. It takes place in Seattle, but must have occurred all along the West Coast. The number of people affected must have been huge. Hard to imagine what happened to the lives of these families. Mr. Chin does a very good job with the narration.

What I didn’t like: Not much. It was well written and using children to portray some of the issues involved made sense, but I guess because I had read other similar books about internment camps, I was a bit bored. It wasn’t because of the story, that is just me. It also was a bit predictable, but not so much that it ruined the story. One thing I thought was a bit unbelievable was that Henry waits over 2 years for Keiko, then just as she’s getting out of the camp, he takes off for China, per his Father’s wish. Why couldn’t he wait a month or so and go after he exhausted all efforts to find her. Just seems a bit unreal after waiting for so long.

Rating: 4/5

Remembering the Real Winnie the Pooh

I don’t remember Winnie the Pooh with a chain around his neck!
Interesting bit of history, though.

Canadian Art Junkie

RYERSON EXHIBITIONIf you’re in Toronto before Dec. 7, don’t miss this.

An exhibit at the Ryerson Image Centre tells the story of Canadian soldier and veterinarian Harry Colebourn (1887–1947), who, at the onset of World War I, purchased a pet bear he named Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg. When his regiment shipped out, Harry took Winnie with him, depositing the bear in the London Zoo when he was called to the front. It is then that A.A. Milne and his son encountered the bear and the world-famous Winnie the Pooh books were born. Winnie turned 100 this year.

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Father’s Day Remeberance

My father was a staff Sargent in the 3rd Armored in WWII – a tank division. He was in the Battle of the Bulge but wasn’t in on the Normandy invasion. His company came a bit later to help push into France. His job was to take some men and go a head of the army to figure out where the Germans were.

Lloyd Keleny with his parents

Lloyd Keleny with his parents

These are some of his recollections (He was answering questions that a distant relative was asking for a school project):

3/18/96

“Greeting – Molly Meuer

… As I started to answer your questions I realized that it has been 53 years since the end of world war II. Some of my memories seem to be as vivid as the instant they occurred and some are starting to fad from memory.

I thank you for the opportunity to pass this information on!

I know that you will get a good grade – Your typing is real neat!

Thanks again

Your Great Uncle Lloyd J Keleny

[ I don’t have Molly’s questions, but here are the answers]

#1 – On Dec. 7, 1941 I was with my father and Mother, in a car, and heard that the Japanese had Bombed Pearl Harbor.

#2 – I was drafted and the number they gave me was 36286901 – this number was put on what we called a dog tag – they were hung around our neck – for identifying the Dead! The tag also gave our type of blood and religious affiliation.

#3 – No – I was not a bit scared to join the Army. Though I may have been apprehensive not knowing what lay ahead.

#4 I think that the turning point in the war was the Naval Battle of Midway.

#5 – The Worst Battle, in my mind, probably was the one I was in that occurred during our attempted Spearhead into the German position. Somewhere past the French town of St. Lo France. It occurred at night. I was in the 3rd Armored Infantry and at night, when the circumstance was right, I would crawl under one of our tanks to sleep. Well, to shorten this a bit, let me just say that they shot 3 tanks from above me and each tank caught fire when hit with an armor piercing shell, probably a German 88 antitank gun did the damage. That is why our Sherman tanks got the nickname of Ronson, after the Ronson lighter, because they lite up so quickly.

The Rose Trilogy by Christine Keleny

The Rose Trilogy by Christine Keleny. – A nice blog post/review by Christoph Fischer. Thanks Christoph! (Check out Christoph’s book, The Luck of the Weissensteiners, about people in the small town of Bratislava pre-WWII.)

Special Anniversary

I’m a few days past this anniversary date, but I didn’t want to overshadow the importance of Memorial Day.

The anniversary I’m talking about it the day the Golden Gate bridge was opened, 75 years ago Sunday. I’ve collected a small gallery of photo’s since it is “the most photographed bridge in America.”

I have a found memory of this bridge myself. I was in Oakland, visiting a friend and we decided to take a bay brunch cruse.  It was a cool day and they were about to serve brunch, so most people where inside, but I couldn’t force myself in because of the spectacular scenes going on outside.

I was standing on the top deck with just a few other strangers. We were inching toward the Golden Gate Bridge and I started to make some small talk with an elder gentleman standing close by. He said, the last time I did this I was on my way to the Pacific in a troop ship. It was an amazing way to see the bridge, and what memories that must have brought back for the gentleman. I was glad I braved the cold to be able to share that with him.

A few tidbits of information about the bridge: the designer is Joseph Strauss with help from Leon Moisseiff and engineer Charles Ellis, on opening day in 1937 it was open to just pedestrians, 19 workers fell into the safety net that was under the bridge and were saved, 10 died when a piece of scaffolding fell with the men, tearing the net. It is approx. 1.7 miles long, also – unfortunately – it is known as the bridge with the most suicides in the world.

Sarah’s Key by Titania de Rosnay

I recently finished reading Sarah’s Key, and for the wait I had getting it through the library, I was a bit disappointed. It was an okay story, an interesting story, but I had trouble getting past the writing; it wasn’t the best. I have struggled with how to describe the writing, what was wrong with it, and I’m still not sure I’ve come up with a good adjective, but my best description is unimaginative or slow. The other thing that bothered me is the dialogue at times was not believable. It just distracted from the interesting story. I don’t know if Titania is French, but the whole story seemed like it was written as an apology from the French people (not a bad thing, considering what happened, but it got a little old).

The story is about a French-Polish family in Paris (parents are Polish, children are French) that get picked up one July in 1942, taken with a group of others to an arena, kept there in deplorable conditions then shipped out to a concentration camp, ultimately to be killed. This incident is particularly deplorable because the children were separated from their parents and because so many children were killed. The author makes the story interesting, and not just another sad holocaust tail, by putting in present day and tying it to woman reporter who is asked to write about the incident for the 60th anniversary of the event and her family. As I said, it is a good story, just not written very well. Of course, I’m glad for the author that it’s doing well, and they even made a movie out of it (which I haven’t seen), but I think non-writers will enjoy it more than writers.