In recent years I have come to know that the best writers are also prolific readers.   Individuals who study styles of fiction, non-fiction, factual documentaries, technical documents, etc.  They look at sentence structure, punctuation, and general “word-smithing”. The great ones bring readers into the story by developing the characters and plot or plots as each chapter unfolds.  I recently finished reading one of the very best books published in recent years.  I can definitely recommend to you the following:

TITLE:  “All the Light You Cannot See”

WITTEN BY: Anthony Doerr

PUBLISHED BY:  Scribner

COPYRITE: 2014

LENGTH:  544 Pages

This book has won the following prestigious awards:

  • The 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
  • 2015 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
  • Australian International Book Award
  • One of the ten best books of 2014 as noted by the New York Times

The book paints a marvelous picture of survival, endurance, and moral obligation as the characters deal with the atrocities that took place in Western Europe during World War II.  The story actually begins in 1940 and involves Marie Laure and her father.  They live in Paris where he works for the Museum of Natural History. He is the “keeper of the keys”, a very talented locksmith and carpenter.  Marie suffered blindness at the age of six years yet her father compensates for that blindness by constructing a small wooden village with houses, building, roads, signs and other real-life structures for her to memorize.  She carefully touches the model so venturing outside presents little confusion and less panic for someone who is blind.  She navigates by memorizing the number of steps between each landmark.  It takes time but is accomplished.

Werner, along with his sister Jutta, are German children growing up in an orphanage.  They suffer all the indignities orphans experience during wartime, including uncertainties of hunger, advancing Russian and American troops, and ill-treatment by German SS officers and soldiers.  Werner develops a great ability to build, repair and operate radios.  This ability is recognized at an early age and he is conscripted into the German army to locate members of the French underground.  He never fully converts to the German way of thinking relative to French patriots.  In the end, he is totally disillusioned with Hitler and the Third Reich.  He not only sees but feels the total deprivation generated by Hitler.  Werner’s work in trying to discover members of the French resistance is the manner in which he meets Marie Laure.

Doerr develops the story line and the characters in the same fashion an artist paints a masterpiece—one stroke at a time.  He very carefully infuses the plot with colorful characters that definitely contribute to the overall narrative.  These characters bounce into and out of the story giving added definition and insight to the overall plot. They are not always benign or accommodating to the reader and some are downright villainous in nature.   Doerr’s ability to go forward and backward in time to cover important events in the lives of the characters is marvelous, yet takes some getting used to. It’s worth the effort.

This is definitely one book in which you want to read the ending first– DO NOT.  The ending is a “twist” the author forces upon us. One that’s not too pleasing but never the less one that brings finality to the story.

I definitely recommend this book to you.  One of the best books you can buy and read.  Buy it this week.

UNBROKEN

September 16, 2012


I just finished a marvelous book called “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.   Published by Random House with copyright date of 2001.  Ms. Hillenbrand is also the author of Seabiscuit, another terrific book which became a movie three or four years ago .  Unbroken is about the life of Louis Zamperini from high school years until his death.  The primary chapters of the book concern his capture and incarceration in Japanese prison camps during the Second World War.    In 1942, Zamperini served in the Army Air Force (AAF) as a bombardier aboard a B-24 “Liberator”, also known as the “flying brick”.   His plane was named Super Man.   He was a member of flight crew number 8 in the nine-crew   372nd Bomb Squadron of the 307th Bomb Group, Seventh Air Force.  The first duty station for Zamperini and his crew was Hickam Field, Oahu were the war  had begun for Americans eleven months earlier.   The major portion of the book begins with the plane he was in , not Super Man,  ditching in the South Pacific and the flight crew’s remarkable survival at sea.  Shot down in the Pacific Theater,  Hillenbrand explains their situation as follows: “Slumped alongside him (Zamperini ) was a sergeant and one of his plane’s gunners while on a separate raft, tethered to the first, lay another  crewman, a gash zigzagging across  his forehead.  Their bodies burned by the sun and stained yellow from the raft dye, had withered down to skeletons.  Sharks glided in lazy loops around them, dragging their backs along the rafts, waiting.”  The rafts had floated at least 1,000 miles, deep into Japanese-controlled waters.  They were picked up by passing Japanese fishing boat.  While the crew had hoped for deliverance instead, they were turned over to Japanese captors who held them in various prison camps for the duration of the war.  After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they were liberated by US forces.  The POWs were beaten mercilessly by their captors and many were judged and sentenced by military tribunals after the war for inhuman treatment to prisoners.   Imprisonment took a definite physical toll on Zamperini but also a significant mental toll; showing up only after he returned to the United States.  Hillenbrand details the demons Louis had to conquer to overcome aberrant behavior and a quick temper.     Daily nightmares were commonplace and the only way Louis fought back was by drowning  the inevitable  “visitors” in alcohol.  He became an alcoholic.  His marriage suffered, his children suffered and family kept away because his actions were so unpredictable.   An equally remarkable part of the story is how Zamperini overcame  his mental problems and how he spent the remainder of  his life after restoration to normal.

I can highly recommend this book to you.   The book is not fiction.  Many pictures of Zamperini, his flight crew and his family are given in the pages with supporting text indicating their importance.  It details the life of an Olympic runner, war hero, husband, father and most of all, a survivor who remained unbroken.

 

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