Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Howard and Phyllis Rutledge

In the Presence of Mine Enemies is a tremendously difficult book to read, yet oddly uplifting. The story of Captain Howard E. Rutledge, who was held captive as a prisoner of war for seven years after his plane was shot down over Vietnam, Rutledge tells not only of the torture and deprivation he experienced but the rebirth of his faith. Torture, I should add, is the one area he did not go into in detail. That doesn't save the reader from many horrifying images, though.

How on earth could someone's faith be renewed while he was kept in solitary confinement--sometimes for years at a stretch--often with his hands and legs shackled so that he had to sit in the same position, unable to lie down or step to a corner to relieve himself? How could anyone even stay alive, much less find any hope to grasp while surrounded by spiders the size of his fist, rats waking him when they nibbled at his toes, swarms of mosquitoes that he could not even lift a hand to swat?

Rutledge attributes his survival to God, the renewal of a faith he had let slide and to the coded communication system devised by prisoners. As each prisoner arrived, often injured and usually terrified of the unknown, the other prisoners would make sure he was "on the line", teaching him their private code in bits and snatches. Using any method possible - tapping on the walls, sweeping a broom rhythmically, even using their sandals to shuffle in code - the prisoners "spoke" to each other. They shared Bible verses, song lyrics, plans, and information about their families and their lives.

The book is an amazing mix of horrific descriptions of pain and loneliness, endurance and faith in the future. A small section written by the wife who didn't know her husband's fate and who had to deal with her own anguish and tragedy on the home front rounds out the book. It's just a shattering but incredible read.

I misplaced the piece of paper I made notes on (again), but found a bio of Rutledge here with quotes, photos and plenty of interesting info. My copy was a library sale find and not in the best condition but judging from the fact that I was able to obtain a cover image (not the same as mine), the book must still be available. I recommend it but with a reminder that his experiences were shocking; it's probably not for the faint of heart. Actually, I'm usually one of the faint of heart but the descriptions of how he spent his time digging up verses and songs from his memory and mentally built houses (in painstaking detail) to keep his mind active probably helped a great deal.


Coming up: A review of Tangerine by Edward Bloor

Almost finished with: First Light by Geoffrey Wellum

Now flying in our area: You name it. I think the bleak midwinter is gone, baby, gone. The pear trees have budded, birds are flying around with bits of this and that in their beaks (homebuilding), everything is turning green, I've been sneezing my head off, I'm wheezy and my eyes are burning. We saw our first butterfly of the season on Sunday. Yeah, spring is here. I could have tolerated a lot more winter.

Best thing my kid has said all month: "Literature is cool." This was in reference to the fact that last semester he studied literature in English; this semester they're working on grammar. The corollary: "Grammar sucks." As my eldest did everything humanly possible to avoid actually reading any of his assigned literature, I'm definitely happy with the youngster enjoying that portion of his English requirements.

Romance is apparently cool, also: Wow, what a response to that post about my Valentine's Day! Sometime soon, I'll have to share how I met my husband. That's actually a pretty romantic story, as well, or so I'm told. But, for now . . . off to do the stuff that I can't avoid. Or maybe I'll go outside and watch the birds, again. It's in the 70's. Feel free to swap places with me, if you're living in a frozen wasteland.

Bookfool, listening to the wind chimes and reaching for another tissue


  1. And I see it's 78 degrees in your neck of the woods! Lucky! I shouldn't complain, though. It's 58 (FIFTY-EIGHT!!) here right now. Whoohoo. Bring it on!

  2. Spring is just around the corner. (Thank goodness) Hope your allergies clear up soon.

    'Literature is cool' I hope you got a recording of that. How I long to hear one of my teenagers say that. Although my 16 year old did just tell me that he thought 'The Great Gatsby' was all right. There is hope for that one yet.

  3. Les,

    Yes, and the car thermometer said 86 when I climbed in to fetch kiddo. Of course, the car gets hot sitting in the sun and the temp quickly drops when I drive but Feb. seems a little early to have to open the windows to air the car out. I'd take 58, thanks. :)

  4. Hey, I had my sunroof open this afternoon! Granted, I had on a sweater and a down vest, but still! ;)

  5. Kookiejar,

    My allergies never actually clear up, but they improve during the winter. I'm allergic to every kind of mold and grass God makes. Sucky.

    The youngster is an impressive reading addict, already, so I'm not completely surprised by his comment. He reads the stories in his lit book several times, still claims his favorite novel is White Fang, and got all excited when I told him that I was looking for a certain Jack London story, which he told me was "Great! Except the guy dies. But it's great!" He's the child of my heart. :)


    You're too funny. I want a Mini with a sunroof! But, I think I'm getting set to look at vans, with three more years of swimming road trips. Ah, well. Maybe in a few years. :)

  6. I'm next in line to switch places with you - I'm still way too cold! I see you are up to 78 degrees today.

    You are getting some serious reading done. It's exciting to see. I've been in such a reading slump the last 2 months. Reading your review and seeing the books you're reading is lighting a spark under me.

  7. Booklogged,

    Yes, darn it, we got up to 78 or 79. I love the sunshine and mild weather, just not the pollen and the fact that warmth means summer is right around the corner. Summer in MS is interminable and I tend to get a semi-permanent 9-month headache from the allergies. Not pleasant.

    Oh, thank you, I've been thinking I was doing a poor job of finishing books (Great Expectations has gone by the wayside - I'm just not a good chunkster reader). I'm thrilled if my reading helps to motivate you! That's a lovely thought. Just FYI, young adult books often help me to get out of a slump because they're usually a bit shorter and I get a sense of accomplishment from just managing to finish something. They can also be loads of fun. :)

  8. Lovely review!

    And I'm terribly excited about reading your review of Tangerine! I read it last semester and had some mixed feelings about it.

  9. Andi,

    Both your messages came through fine - I'm set to approve them before they show up, so I just deleted the other one.

    Oh, cool! I really liked Tangerine and just posted a review to BAW, but I have a bit more I'll probably say, here. :) Is your review in the files? I'd love to see what you had to say!!

  10. Oh I can relate- hayfever season has begun here as well. :(
    H has been sneezing like crazy, and I've got stuffed up sinuses! Blah! I do love the plum and cherry blossoms though. But then I'd like to hibernate through summer! Just wake me up again when the leaves turn! :P

  11. Nat,

    Exactly. Hibernation sounds perfect. Sorry the two of you are feeling the pollen, also. It's pretty with things starting to bloom but I love winter. :)

  12. That sounds like an interesting book. :) I might have to put it on my list of books to read. :)

  13. It's only 142 pages, Krista. You'd be done with it in an hour. Let me know if your library doesn't have it.

  14. we've published a link to this review today!

  15. Great review! I hadn't heard of this book prior to your review, but I'm adding it to my to-read list. I'm glad he doesn't go into too much detail, though I'm sure it's still hard to read.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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