I'm obviously not an objective reader, but I can say that I'm really digging the book. It's about my grandfather, a man I never knew. My mom never knew him, either -- he was a submarine captain, and he died at sea before my mother was born. Her mother, my grandmother, remarried quickly and tried to move on, urging her children to do the same. So for most of my mom's life, she obeyed, and didn't ask questions about her father. For the first twenty-six years of my life I never thought about my grandfather. I didn't have any stories about him, and because nobody had ever talked about him, it didn't occur to me to be curious.
But my mom got curious about him about 9 years ago, and her curiosity started her digging into archives, learning about submarines, making friends with WWII veterans, and re-tracing the steps my grandfather took while he was alive. And she wrote this book, about him, and about what it was like for her to learn about and grieve a man she never got to know.
I'm struck by how thorough she has been in her research, and how brave. She's learned all kinds of things about submarines, about WWII, and, indeed about war itself. She's questioned her own biases (a pacifist, the process of war research forced her to reconsider her own notions about war, duty, and honor). She asks uncomfortable questions: was her parents' marriage a good one, was her father a gambler, did he take unnecessary risks with his mens' lives? She's assembled what seems like a pretty clear picture of a man, a life, and a time in history, from interviews and scrapbook excerpts, old letters and war accounts. It's her past she's discovering, and mine, and it's really compelling to realize that I did want to know about this, all along. I'm learning a lot about submarines and WWII history, and about its impact on family life in the years immediately following, and this is probably the most universally appealing and intellectually interesting part of the book from an objective point of view. But for me those are incidentals -- I'm reading to learn something way more personal.
I can see traits in myself that I probably inherited from this grandfather I never knew. I'm gregarious; I like to work a room; I'll strike up a conversation with a stranger without hesitation. It isn't learned behavior. My parents are friendly but introverted. They'd just as soon stay home and read, or, if they go out, sit at a corner table with good friends. I've wondered over the years where my urge to reach out comes from. I think it's from Jim Coe. There's something really neat about getting a gift from someone who died 65 years ago. And of course my mother gave me this gift: she gave me a second grandfather, another one I can be proud of. I didn't know what I was missing. It turns out it was a lot.