Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Book review: "The Lost Airman"

Sergeant Arthur Meyerowitz's World War II career seemingly ended about as soon as it started. On only his second combat flight, Meyerowitz's bomber was shot down over France on New Year's Day 1944.

That could easily have been the end -- Meyerowitz could have perished with the plane, been shot by Germans on the ground, or captured and imprisoned for the rest of the war. But instead it was the beginning of an amazing odyssey that is told in "The Lost Airman."

This 2016 book tells the story of how Meyerowitz parachuted successfully from the plane and was taken in by French Resistance members, who protected and hid him over five months at great personal risk to themselves. The book is written by Meyerowitz's grandson, Seth Meyerowitz, and co-writer Peter F. Stevens.

Arthur Meyerowitz was moved between various locations, and given false ID so he could "hide in plain sight." At one point, he was cast as a deaf-mute paint store worker. Later, he was a farmhand. The French then helped Meyerowitz make a dramatic escape hike through the Pyrenees mountains into Spain.

The authors occasionally move tangentially from the main story to tell of brave actions by the French Resistance members, especially a shape-shifting guerrilla leader named Marcel Taillander.

You can't help but be impressed by the gutsy actions of the French -- it's hard to believe so many people risked their lives to save a single American airman. (While by himself at first, Meyerowitz was later paired in his escape with a British officer.)

There is a wonderfully joyous scene when Meyerowitz's family learns that he is still alive.

As amazing as the story is, the writing in this book is, at best, adequate. The authors present a simplified picture of good guys versus bad guys, with the former being clever and precise, and the latter brutal and vicious. Though the story is inherently dramatic, the author's can't resist jumping in to remind us, repeatedly, that danger is everywhere. On one single page, they describe events as "nerve-racking," "unnerving," and "ominous."

In all, it's a great story, but I wish it had been told better.


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