Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Lovely Little War by Angus Lorenzen

A Lovely Little War: Life in a Japanese prison camp through the eyes of a child by Angus Lorenzen
Copyright 2008
History Publishing Company - Nonfiction/Memoir
231 pages, incl. index


What led you to pick up this book?
WWII is the one war that fascinates me above all others and I particularly love reading memoirs from that time period. This book was also intended to count as my first read for the War Through the Generations challenge.

Describe the book without giving anything away. Angus Lorenzen was born in China and knew it as his home. He and his family lived in a large, comfortable house with servants in Japanese-occupied China (his father had numerous connections in high places, both diplomatic and in business) and didn't even consider leaving the country until danger was imminent. By then, it was too late. Angus, his mother and his sister Lucy made it as far as the Philippines while his father and half brother remained in China.

They arrived in Manila as the Philippine Islands were being occupied by the Japanese and ended up interned in Santo Tomas prison camp, housed on a former college campus that grew more crowded, dangerous, and short of food as time went on. For nearly 4 years, the author's family members remained in the prison camp until they were liberated by American soldiers. This memoir tells the story of their imprisonment as experienced by the author, who arrived at the camp when he was a mere 6 years old.

Describe a favorite scene. The entire book was utterly gripping. I can't say there was a single scene that stands out, merely because the entire tale was so absorbing that I had trouble putting the book down, although the descriptions of how the camp was bombed after they were "liberated" were incredibly vivid. I could practically hear the explosions and the rattle of gunfire. The Japanese had not yet been conquered in Manila when soldiers arrived and there's even a photo that shows the author running into the building where his family was housed as the campus was bombed.

How did you feel about the real-life characters involved in this author's tale? Because the book is told from the author's viewpoint as a 6-9-year-old child, you see everything from his perspective as a youngster. He didn't fully understand the depths of depravity and the horrors of war. Mostly what you get out of it was that he became hungrier and hungrier as the years went by and their rations shrank.

I was really impressed by his mother's ingenuity. She had lived with servants for years, but she figured out somehow that cold cream was edible and used it to fry tinned meat and and [another ingredient I can't remember] into hard tack with their meager Red Cross rations. This and the rest of the rations she doled out carefully -- probably keeping them alive. His brother's story is an incredible tale of escape from occupied China that is so amazing that I think it's worth the price of the book. And the author, although traumatized by his experiences, has dry sense of humor that I found charming. I became quite fond of the author and his family.

What did you like most about the book? I loved the way the author incorporated historical facts into the text without diluting the telling of his story from a child's viewpoint. Really, I loved everything about this book. The story doesn't halt when the camp was liberated. Instead, the author tells how the family was reunited and where they went after the war, then he wraps it up with the tale of his journey back to the campus, 50 years later.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book? There's nothing I disliked about the book, although there was a point at which I realized that because the author was a child and he told his story as he remembered it, I didn't get a true feeling as to just how horrifying the experience was for the adults. But. Big but. There's a photo of prisoners after the liberation and they look just like victims of a Nazi concentration camp, all skin and bones.

With a few photos and some comments about other people in the camp, the slightly skewed perspective of his childish viewpoint is clarified. Lorenzen took care to explain that he didn't experience the horror in the way adults did because he didn't know better. He found ways to entertain himself, made friends, collected shells and shrapnel when the encampment was in the line of fire. He knew the guards had murdered people and were not to be approached, he was uncomfortable from the crowding and ached from hunger all the time, but he still was a kid who managed to find ways to play. It's such a unique viewpoint and story from all of the other WWII books that I've read that I know this book will stick with me for a long, long time.

Anything else worth mentioning? This is off-the-wall, I guess, but as I was closing in on the part where the Americans arrived to liberate the camp and the author repeatedly mentioned the beri-beri from which the prisoners suffered (due to malnutrition), I came to a startling realization. My father may have been nearby.

I know my dad was stationed in Manila during the closing months of WWII, as a navy corpsman on a hospital ship. Although I don't know the exact dates and I think the liberation had probably occurred months before he arrived, I recall him talking about beri-beri. What about beri-beri? I don't know. Did he hear stories about the malnourished prisoners or did he treat some of them? I wish I could ask him. I've seen slides of the hospital ship and of fighting near Manila. My father was a prolific amateur photographer and as children we regularly requested a repeat of my father's wartime slide show . . . which, by the way, is how my parents met. My mother went up to speak to my father after he did a slide show of his war photographs at church. Point being , it really stunned me when I realized to that this author's story and my father's may have intersected at some point.

Recommended? Enthusiastically, yes. Read this book if you like reading memoirs, enjoy reading about WWII or can come up with any other excuse (let's face it; we're really good at coming up with excuses to seek out a new book).

Cover thoughts: I love the cover. The Japanese rising sun is bright and eye-catching, barbed wire symbolizes imprisonment and the child's hand makes it clear that Add Imagethe book is about a child's experience. It's really quite perfect, in my opinion.

Here's one of my father's photos, which I re-photographed from one of his paper albums while cleaning my mother's house, last year:

35 comments:

  1. I'm definitely adding this one to the list. I knew a woman who was in one of the Japanese camps in the Phillipines when she was a very young child. She seemed to have a similar distance from the experience. Great review - thanks, Nancy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you liked this book, you will enjoy mine, Gudao, Lone Islet, The War Years in Shanghai, a childhood memoir. It contains similar, varied background material and my memoir of life in Shanghai before, during and after World War II. There is also an Epilogue to the present day. Buy at www.margaretblair.com, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

      Sincerely,

      Margaret Blair

      Delete
  2. I like to read memoirs and I like to read about WW2, so this sounds like a book for me. Thanks for the review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you liked this book, you will enjoy mine, Gudao, Lone Islet, The War Years in Shanghai, a childhood memoir. It contains similar, varied background material and my memoir of life in Shanghai before, during and after World War II. There is also an Epilogue to the present day. Buy at www.margaretblair.com, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

      Sincerely,

      Margaret Blair

      Delete
  3. Jenclair,

    That's interesting! I think I've read so many memoirs of WWII that read like an unfolding horror story that I really enjoyed the completely different perspective this author had as a little boy who didn't fully understand the big picture, instead remaining a playful youngster. I hope you enjoy the reading as much as I did!

    Kathy,

    This one's going high on my list of all-time favorite WWII memoirs. I hope you enjoy reading it, too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you liked this book, you will enjoy mine, Gudao, Lone Islet, The War Years in Shanghai, a childhood memoir. It contains similar, varied background material and my memoir of life in Shanghai before, during and after World War II. There is also an Epilogue to the present day. Buy at www.margaretblair.com, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

      Sincerely,

      Margaret Blair

      Delete
  4. This one sounds very good! I really enjoy reading WWII memoirs, and so I'm adding this one to my list. Both of my grandfathers were in the Pacific in WWII. I know that one of them was in Japan right after the treaty signing. I remember him talking about sleeping on the tarmac because there wasn't anywhere else for the soldiers to sleep.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you liked this book, you will enjoy mine, Gudao, Lone Islet, The War Years in Shanghai, a childhood memoir. It contains similar, varied background material and my memoir of life in Shanghai before, during and after World War II. There is also an Epilogue to the present day. Buy at www.margaretblair.com, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

      Sincerely,

      Margaret Blair

      Delete
  5. Alyce,

    WWII is a fascinating time period to read about, isn't it? I just got another WWII memoir in the mail, today: Resistance by Agnes Humbert. I hope it's a good one, too.

    Very, very cool about your grandfather's story! I wish I'd thought to record my father's war stories, but he died so young that it never occurred to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you liked this book, you will enjoy mine, Gudao, Lone Islet, The War Years in Shanghai, a childhood memoir. It contains similar, varied background material and my memoir of life in Shanghai before, during and after World War II. There is also an Epilogue to the present day. Buy at www.margaretblair.com, Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

      Sincerely,

      Margaret Blair

      Delete
  6. Well I'm just going to have to pick this one up next time I go to the library, won't I? I love memoirs and this one sounds beautiful, though a little haunting....I like that mix. You've really been doing a number on my wishlist lately! Bad Bookfool!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Chris,

    Yes, I do believe you need this because (evil laugh) I am dying to earn some Bad Blogger points. ;) This one's going on the good shelves, btw. I liked it that much.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh my goodness, this is a "must get hands on now" kind of book! Thank you for the wonderful review! I so loved hearing the stuff about your dad...wish he'd written a memoir, too.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I love how you share your enthusiasm when you really like a book! I will tbr this just because you tell me to. :)
    The photo that your father took is fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This sounds like an amazing read that I will have to check out. Great review!

    ReplyDelete
  11. You probably know how much I love memoirs and books about WWII, so this is going on my must-read list. It sounds like a winner.

    Crawling back to my sick bed. Got hit with a terrible stomach virus in the middle of the night Friday/Saturday and am only just now beginning to feel human.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks for the review! I also really love reading about WWII. I will absolutely be checking this book out!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Debi,

    It's a good one. Share your thoughts with me when you read it, please!!!

    And, thank you. I wish my father had lived long enough to at least dictate his experiences to me. He was a wonderful storyteller and he would have happily shared but we lost him far too soon.

    Care,

    LOL, thanks! I do tend to bubble over when a book excites me, don't I? At least you don't have to watch me bounce up and down about it. Sometimes my husband actually has to put a hand on my head when I get excited.

    I love my father's photos. Isn't that something? The damage to that building goes far to prove the author's point about the depths of destruction in Manila. My sister has all of my dad's slides. I guess I will have to communicate with her if I want to ever get a chance to copy them.

    Samantha,

    I thought it was wonderful. I particularly appreciated the fact that the author acknowledges that he was traumatized but he's not bitter. His story is told with a touch of humor, here and there. I think it's a book that would be great for discussion. I'm kind of hoping a bunch of people will rush out to get a copy so we can all talk about it!!! :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Les,

    Yep, we share that little obsession. There are things about this book that I wish I could discuss with a group, so I'm really hoping a lot of people will read it. I've just acquired another WWII memoir called Resistance by Agnes Humbert. Have you heard of it?

    Oh, stomach viruses are the worst. Poor you! Crawl back to bed and get well. Hugs and healing wishes to you.

    Michelle,

    This one will go well up there on favorite WWII memoirs, for me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    ReplyDelete
  15. This sounds like a must-read for me. With all the books about WWII I've been reading about, the challenge could go on forever. LOL Thanks for including your personal story. Shows how small the world really is.

    I've created a post for your review here on War Through the Generations and added the link to the book reviews page.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

    ReplyDelete
  16. This book sounds fascinating! The history and photos that are added to give a fuller picture of what might otherwise have been a skewed perspective (of a child) is what makes this intriguing to me. Also I love the connection between what you were reading and your father’s experiences – that is one reason I read about WWII (although in my case it is my grandparents experience I’m looking to learn about).

    ReplyDelete
  17. Anna,

    I think you'll love it. Thanks for adding a link to my review!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I haven't heard of that particular book, Nancy. I'll be interested in your opinion. It's got mixed reviews over on Amazon.

    I'm feeling a little better. Trying to eat something to get some energy back. Lost 6 lbs! Not the way I'd like to lose weight, mind you.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Heather,

    Why, thank you. I do think the author did a fantastic job of explaining that he did have an unusual perspective -- in fact, he mentions that post-traumatic stress didn't even have a name, nor was it acknowledged, and years later he realized he did suffer from it. But, he's certain his experience was not the horror the adults lived through. So fascinating.

    I was really surprised when I realized there was a potential connection between the author and my father, but yep . . . makes me want to read more about the Pacific War. I've read some, but I think my focus has been primarily on Europe. I'd love to know about your grandparents' connection.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Les,

    I have no idea how Resistance ended up on my wishlist. I'll let you know what I think about it.

    Wow, 6 pounds? You must have had it bad. I'll bet that's mostly water weight and you're dehydrated. Stomach viruses do that. Drink up, babe, and let yourself heal.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Yeah, I'm sure I'll be up 6 pounds in a few days. I'm sipping on Mountain Dew. Can't quite fathom the thought of a cup of coffee yet, but the caffeine addiction is too strong and I suffered a miserable headache on Saturday!

    ReplyDelete
  22. This sounds like a really interesting read! Definitely one for the wish list. Thanks for the great review!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Les,

    Good, keep sipping. Dehydration probably made the headache worse, poor thing. I hope you recover very soon.

    Megan,

    I think it's phenomenal. So glad you liked the review and I look forward to your thoughts when you read the book!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I'm way behind in google reader, so just now saw this one. I MUST get myself a copy of this book! It sounds wonderful. How exciting that your Dad might have been in that same area and maybe helped those in the same camp!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Kris,

    I'm behind, too -- like 800 posts worth. Yeeks. You'll love this one. I thought that little family connection was wonderful. I can never know for sure, but still . . . just the thought is cool. :)

    ReplyDelete
  26. Anonymous2:23 PM

    Thank you for the wondeful review of my book, A Lovely Little War. You are very perceptive because you captured exactly what I was trying to accomplish with the book. The inspiration for it was my 2005 trip to Manila for the 60th anniversary of the Liberation. Most of the people in our group had been children in the WW II camps, and I realized that our experiences had not be described from our viewpoint.

    Your father's experience with beriberi in the Philippines may well have resulted from treating liberated POWs. The first POWs to be liberated on Luzon were in Cabanatuan (Hampton Sides - The Ghost Soldiers). They were no doubt treated on hospital ships accompanying the invasion fleet at Lingayen Gulf. The POWs liberated in Manila who needed hospitalization were flown to Leyte and Mindoro to board hospital ships in those locations. Manila was inaccessible to Hospital ships until March and the camps were liberated in February, so your father may well have encountered POWs in one of these other locations.

    It is one of the great tragedies in life that we descendents don't spend enough time to capture the stories of our parents. I regret every minute that I didn't spend with my father to learn his unusual history, born in China and a POW in both wars. It is now a project of our ex-POW organization to encourage decendents to capture the stories of their predecessors for the living history it will reveal. There have been recent publications, presented as true history, that are nothing but distortions and fiction that denigrate our true experiences, which need no fictionalization to make fantastic stories.

    Thank you again for your wonderful review.

    Angus Lorenzen

    ReplyDelete
  27. Angus,

    Thank you for visiting my blog and sharing a bit more! If and when I manage to go through my father's slides from Manila, I'll post an update and compare dates to see how close he may have come to being nearby during or after the liberation of prisoners from any of the camps or prisons mentioned. At this point, I don't have access to anything; my sister has all of his slides. But, I'm quite anxious to find out whether he merely knew about the prisoners or actually treated some of them.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Hello,

    I am requesting permission to answer the comments, that say they like memoirs/childhood war memoirs, with the information about my book Gudao, Lone Islet, The War Years in Shanghai, a childhood memoir. Although set in a different place,it has much in common in the background information given and an Epilogue following up people and nations to the present day.

    You may see my website with book information and reader comments at www.margaretblair.com I will soon be starting a blog about both my books.

    Thank you, Respectfully, Margaret Blair

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I checked out your website and it looks great so I have no problem approving your comment. Not sure what exactly you want to do but just leaving this comment here should give you a little exposure via the few people who drop by to read this post. This review is a rather old one so the comments are not current and I doubt many of those who initially commented will see replies if you reply directly to them.

      Delete
  29. I'll try anyway. These books are a work of love - for my family and for the Chinese people who suffered so much under the Japanese during the War. I try to get them into the hands of people who will appreciate them.

    Thank you, Margaret Blair

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!