My Father's Secret War: A Memoir
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 18 May 2016
Although the title My Father's Secret War might suggest the book to be a war memoir, and that was actually the reason why I had picked it up, I was quite disappointed to find that this was yet another example of a book having a title that described only a small portion of the content. That annoyance aside, focusing on the few pages that the Pulitzer Prize winning author Lucinda Franks dedicated to his father's war time exploits, the book was interesting. Tom Franks, ostensibly attached to the United States Navy Bureau of Ordnance, occasionally went on assignment with the clandestine Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during WW2. With the US Navy, he saw fighting in the South Pacific alongside of United States Marines; with the OSS, he was a witness to the horrors of Holocaust at Ohrdruf Concentration Camp in central Germany. Like so many of this generation, the elder Franks was reluctant to talk about his experiences; additionally, he continued to honor the oath of secrecy he took when he joined the OSS. Both reasons led to the author's quest to uncover her father's history an arduous, though intriguing and rewarding, journey. Through blatant mistakes such as calling men of the US Navy "soldiers", the author's lack of knowledge in the military was apparent but forgivable, for that her storytelling was most enjoyable. Her narratives of the elder Franks' proud accomplishments and traumatic experiences were captivating, immersing me in her conversations with old family friends and taking me with her to the clean rooms at the US National Archives and Records Administration. Not all her research methods were bullet-proof, however, and certain conclusions she drew seemed to be shaky.
As noted, relatively small number of pages were devoted to Tom Franks' war time experience. The bulk of the book was about the author's relationship with her father, her relationship with her father's extra-marital lover, the strained relationship between her parents, and, for a few paragraphs, the words ventured as far as the author's son's experience at a small town hospital's emergency room during a family vacation. All far off from her father's "secret war".
I had reviewed this book in its audio book format. Joyce Bean did a good job reading and voice acting, but the deepened voice that she used for the speaking parts of male characters in the book was a bit disconcerting to me at first.
My Father's Secret War was a good book on family relationships and it was an emotional account of interviews with a traumatized veteran. Speaking strictly from a WW2 history/memoir perspective, this book fell in the gray area near the off-topic zone. A more fitting title might be something along the lines of "My WW2 Veteran Father and I".
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939