Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Keeper's Son Book review

THE KEEPER'S SON by Homer Hickam New York, St Martins Press

Killakeet Island is a fictional spot in the Outer Banks islands of the North Carolina coast, the graveyard of countless ships wrecked on the rocky shoals over the past 400 years. The Thurlow family has tended the tall lighthouse on Killakeet for generations, faithfully sending its powerful beam out across the water to warn ships away from the rocks. Josh Thurlow, the present lighthouse keeper's son, has just returned from Coast Guard duty in Alaska and now in the fall of 1941 as an ensign, he commands the small Coast Guard ship and its civilian crew stationed on Killakeet as an unarmed sea rescue unit.

Theodosia “Dosie” Crossan has recently returned home to Killakeet to “find herself” after several jobs and unsuccessful romantic relationships on the mainland up north. Willow Mallory is the daughter of the town's storekeeper, a pretty girl but “not quite right in the head” or as some townspeople would call it, a hoo-doo. Queenie O'Neal manages the small hotel at Whalebone City, a clump of houses clustered at the island's harbor and Coast Guard station.

The Maudie Jane is an 83 foot long cutter with a machine gun mount at its bow and the machine gun stored in the hold. It's depth charge rack is empty; the government has not yet authorized ammunition for either weapon, the mission being to rescue people and salvage wreckage in the event of shipwreck. Josh Thurlow and his bosun, Eureka Phimble, are the only two with any military training; gunner's mate Ready O'Neal and the half-dozen other crewmen look at the off-shore Gulf Stream current as a good source of fish to occupy time on patrol.

German U-boat captain Otto Krebs commands one of the half-dozen German submarines assigned to the American Atlantic coast. He finds the Outer Banks a fertile hunting ground for the oil tankers and cargo ships on which Britain's existence depends. When America enters the war, the American navy focuses first on the Pacific, where Japan has destroyed most of the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Ensign Thurlow and his fishermen crew and their women on Killakeet have only themselves to depend upon in facing the powerful Unterseewaffe of Nazi Germany. Thurlow has a bare few months to prepare his men and his small ship to meet the highly trained seamen of German Admiral Karl Doenitz and his U-boats.

New York Times best-selling author Homer Hickam is a master story teller, weaving together the individual lives of the Americans and Germans who face each other on the Atlantic coast of America at war. The conflicts among the fisher folk of the Outer Banks, the US military, an orphanage struggling to survive in wartime Nazi Germany, and lovers on both sides of the Atlantic trying to maintain their faith in God and each other, all keep the reader engrossed to the end.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Book Review: The Fifth Sister

by Laura Landgraf  (Oakland, CA Empower Press

This book will surely become required reading in many a college psychology course. The author not only survived childhood sex abuse and parental violence, but overcame it and ensured the ongoing safety of her own two children.

A page turner to the very end, this story has most of the attributes of a prize-winning novel, but is nonfiction. (I know the author personally and her present husband.) Basically, her father—a school teacher, church pastor and strong disciplinarian—was also a serial child molester, and her mother enabled him, to keep the family's public reputation unsullied. At some point in their childhood, he violated each of his five daughters (three of them adopted) besides having other extramarital affairs.

Laura divides her narrative into three sections: one from her viewpoint at age 10, the second as a teenager, and the third as an adult. In her teen-age years as a missionary kid in Ethiopia, she became fluent in the native language, capable in medical first aid, an expert horseback rider, and later a licensed airplane pilot. In contrast, her four sisters were unable to cope with the family dysfunction.

I had two questions with this book (other than the emotional turmoil I experienced while reading it): First, what could the mission organization possibly have been thinking, continuing to employ Laura's father as a Christian missionary, when (by the reply Laura's mother got from the mission's American headquarters) they must have been aware of serious family problems? Why were the father's talents as a speaker and fund-raiser so important that the family situation was ignored until the American Embassy in Ethiopia forced the parents to leave?

Secondly, I was surprised at the story's sudden ending, although I understood it better after reading on through to the last page. This is a true story, not fiction; no denouement required. Instead she asks us as readers to consider twenty-one questions to make us think seriously about our attitude toward maintaining secrecy versus blowing the whistle when childhood sex abuse occurs.