Monday, June 6, 2016
Off the Shelf:
Breaking the Code
With Memorial Day commemorations still fresh in mind, I pulled a book off the shelf which I have long been meaning to read. It's a memoir by Karen Fisher-Alaniz called Breaking the Code.
Though the reason I first stumbled across the title was because of something I read about the author online, the book itself has a captivating subtitle: A Father's Secret, A Daughter's Journey, and the Question that Changed Everything. That may seem like a mouthful, but it's enough to draw me in. I want to know: what question?
That wasn't all. At the time, I had been writing about my father in law's letters home from the Pacific front during World War II. I wanted to see how others were handling the presentation of such letters. After all, letters can contain the trivial, yet still represent the tumultuous in the latent message between the lines.
I got the Fisher-Alaniz paperback shortly after it came out in late 2011—just about the time I began the saga of my father in law's enlistment—so you can see why I was interested in the comparison. Both Karen's father—Murray Fisher—and my father in law began their service in the U.S. Navy. Both men served in the Pacific during the same war. Both men wrote volumes of letters home—although at over four hundred letters, the Fisher legacy far outclasses ours. And though each tour of duty was vastly different, each man apparently returned to civilian life with the burden of the heavy episodes they faced while so far from home.
Like many, the author's father was one who never talked much about his wartime experiences. Those were memories bottled up inside. Yet, one day—his eighty-first birthday—without explanation, her father placed two notebooks on her lap, containing more than four hundred pages of letters, letters he had never mentioned to anyone before. Puzzled by their sudden appearance and wondering what was behind this shift, she began on a journey of discovering what role in the war her father had played—and just what that involvement did to her father, as well.
The book was apparently well received, judging by the positive reviews accompanying this memoirist's debut. Now that I'm several chapters into the book, I've seen enough to recognize familiar details and incidents from my father-in-law's own letters home. And it's been interesting seeing how Fisher-Alaniz weaves her own story into the pages of letters transcribed in these first chapters. After all, as this World War II serviceman's daughter, she has her own story to tell, as well.
Though the book is over three hundred pages in length, it will be a quick read. The narrative pulls the reader along. And, of course, I have that vested interest in comparing notes between the experiences of these two navy men.
Because I've gathered together a few more books with similar treatment—World War II letters home—I'll be sharing those as soon as I finish up this story. From a writer's point of view, it will be instructive to compare styles and approaches. Of course, the bottom line for me is that, though I've already posted the basic outline of Frank Stevens' own story, I'd like to someday issue a fuller version of my father in law's story in book form. There are always the questions: how to do it, whether to keep the same angle, what information should be kept in, added to or retracted. But I'm still mulling over that possibility.