Two very different books about wartime survival have been sitting side by side on my bookshelf.
One is a personal project by a Sequim woman who recounts her experiences as a Dutch citizen living in Indonesia during World War II.
The other is an ambitious undertaking that involved interviews with World War II veterans who, as members of the famous paratroopers' unit called Easy Company, parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, liberated concentration camps and were the first to arrive at Hitler's hideout at the end of the war.
These true stories, which took place on opposite sides of the globe from one another, certainly give testimony to the global scope of the war.
"Unplanned Odyssey," is author Elisabeth "Liesje" Wilson's account of her ordeal as a young European woman in the war-torn Pacific.
Her privileged childhood as a Dutch colonial did nothing to prepare her for the hardships of war but she learned how to cope with the circumstances and led a remarkable life as, successively, an escapee from a Japanese concentration camp, the wife of an abusive Japanese samurai and a divorced single mother working at the American P.X. in Tokyo.
Retired and living in
Sequim today with her second husband, Wilson's tale of tribulations does have a happy ending.
Bellingham author Marcus Brotherton had first helped Lt. Buck Compton with his memoir "Call of Duty" before turning to the rest of the surviving members of Easy Company to collect their stories for another book.
Brotherton's new offering "We Who Are Alive and Remain" shares the veterans' candid memories and helps to flesh out what life really was like for the "Band of Brothers" made famous by the 2001 HBO mini-series. It probably comes as no surprise that license was taken in the TV episodes - this book helps to set things straight.
The men of Easy Company were a cohesive group that had been subjected to grueling training stateside before being shipped overseas. Partly by accident and partly by design, this elite team was present at some of the turning points of the war, and their recollections - still vivid after all these years - illustrate the tremendous toll of this war.
This book's major weakness is lack of context. After spending so much time with these veterans, Brotherton knows the campaigns in which they participated inside and out.
But for those of us who are less familiar with the war's timeline, it would have been helpful if each chapter had been introduced with an overview of time and place before launching into the men's remarks.
Nonetheless, the overall content is fascinating and thought-provoking.
A concluding chapter captures the men's thoughts on the nature of heroism. Not one of the veterans interviewed for this book thinks of himself as a hero. They were simply guys who had a job to do. But their determination and sacrifice certainly underscore Brotherton's plea at book's end: "that we might live for what matters."
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.
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