Sunday Book Reviews – 8/18/19

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

Stalag 65 : A Memoir of a Korean P.O.W. by Se Hee Oh (2001, Artwork Publications)

This memoir presents the experiences of a Korean prisoner of war, a South Korean detainee who was imprisoned as a member of the North Korean army. He was not alone in this experience; thousands of other South Koreans shared that fate.

He tells of the violence, starvation and abuses of the prison camps from a first-hand experience. Unlike the prison camps of North Korea and China, however, readers are left with the clear understanding that those run by the U.S. military were run with an eye toward balancing the humanitarian needs of prisoners and the omnipresent risk of danger from granting a violent enemy too much freedom.

The violence and abuses, by his recollection, were not institutionalized, and they were enacted more by prisoners toward each other than they were wayward guards or policy. In some cases, he admits his own culpability in attacking other prisoners, such as his temper-driven beating of cooks under his control after learning that they’d gorged themselves on food which was to feed hungry P.O.W.s.

There are few books on the American P.O.W. camps; although they’ve existed during most wars, they are not a source of national pride but rather an acknowledgment of necessity. For that reason, they’re often used by internal factions who oppose U.S. military action as examples of the horrors America tries to hide… people who take the lack of material on them as evidence that the camps were, if not as bad as the torturous prisons erected by enemy nations, at least nearly so. The first-hand account of a man who spent two years in one during the height of a bloody conflict is an education that effectively rebuts that viewpoint while providing voice for some of the abuses which did actually occur.

Dog Man : For Whom the Ball Rolls by Dav Pilkey (2019, Graphix)

For Whom the Ball Rolls is the latest book in the Dog Man series. The books are extremely popular with children and present simplistic plots and drawings in a way that encourages kids toward proper behavior and complex reading.

They were developed by the creator of Captain Underpants, and bypass most of the toilet humor of that series in favor of relationship jokes, as the man character of the series is a policeman whose head and mind have been replaced with a police dog.

If this seems ludicrous, it is… but the book is presented as if it were written and drawn by fourth graders; specifically, as if it were written and drawn by the main characters from the Captain Underpants books.

While the comics-inside-a-book interludes in those books were replete with spelling and grammar errors, though, the Dog Man books present steadily fewer of these as the series continues. From a metafiction standpoint, it’s reflecting the developing knowledge of the children writing the story.

The books also present key images and general plotlines designed to make other, more daunting fiction more approachable. Previous books have covered Batman comics and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, a title kids are likely to have on their school reading lists at some point; the latest title lightly integrates some aspects of Ernest Hemingway books into the adventure.

It’s a good series for kids, having far less gross humor than the Captain Underpants series and pushing concepts like the positive role of law enforcement, the value of family and the satisfaction which comes from redemption. It’s also not particularly expensive; the latest title has a list price of $12.95 and can typically be found discounted with even a slight effort at bargain-hunting. At a cost of two contemporary comic books, buying what amounts to a hardback graphic novel is a good deal.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.