Thursday, January 1, 2015

Always, Ian

Book 90 of my 2014 Reading Challenge

I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it. 

Always, Ian: The Discovered Journey of Ian Morrison Smith in WWII 
by Pat Smith Hopper

Summary (via Goodreads)
Pat Smith Hopper tells her father's story through his letters home. They are a gift to the family he treasured and the men and women with the character to fight for liberty. Letters home were signed - Always, Ian.
"Not a man cheered. But we were all joyous." From a fragment of a letter home, these few words described the feelings of a U.S. soldier at the breakout of the Allies into the last great Po Valley campaign of WWII in Italy. Ian Morrison Smith's letters home told little of the battles. They reflect the heart, loneliness and character of one soldier during this epic war of freedom. Ian's journey starts in Australia to upstate New York. He tells of his time in Italy and the Po River Valley Campaign, being stationed finally in desolated Hiroshima after the bomb.
Mrs. Hopper weaves the historical facts into her father's story, bringing them to life for the reader. Maps, timelines, photos, clippings from the time and narrative all combine to produce a unique telling of the story of World War II.

My Opinion
Wow, this book has been a part of my life for 3 months and it feels strange to be done with it. It's not a "devour in one sitting" book by any means; it's very thorough and I would happily read 3-5 letters each night before bed.

What a treasure for Ian's family to have this much history. He had a way with words and was a very good storyteller. He did a great job of distracting and staying upbeat, which the prologue said was intentional. He talked about the war and the difficulties but always in a way that made it seem like he wasn't in any danger when I'm sure that wasn't the case. He's also funny. While most letters were to his wife, the letters to his daughter Patty were very sweet. 

His curiosity (observes it's springtime but he sees no birds and mentions going to the library at his next opportunity to find out the reason) and observations made this different than any war journal I've read before. He includes lots of details on "non-war" things such as descriptions of the places he went and the food he ate. The amount of pictures he took, which I was thrilled to see included in the book, really added to the stories as well. He also reviews the movies he sees and books he reads. His list of the 3 cartoonists he expected to have a post-war career (Dave Breger, George Baker, and Bill Mauldin) was accurate but he didn't fare so well on the actresses. He thought Lauren Bacall "shot her complete repertoire in her first movie" and would end up as a character actress only, ha!

His references to the cigarette rations the military provided (14 packs every 2 weeks) and using cigarettes as currency (Italian children selling bags of peanuts for 5 cents or 3 cigarettes) was a reminder of how much times have changed.  

A Few Quotes from the Book
"I have been writing these letters after lunch each day in order to make the mails through the censor. If my pen doesn't make it my mind carries the thoughts to you. I have that snug warm assured feeling that we are both thinking of each other all the time and that our love binds us so close together though the distance may separate us. We've had so many coincidences in regards to mental telepathy that I know and feel at times your thoughts and strength."

"[Homeless orphans] is the price of war and one of the strongest reasons why the Peace to come shall enforce that this thing shall not happen again and that the perpetrators of this crime upon humanity shall indeed come to justice. No one can look at a child - no matter of what nationality - and see hunger and bewilderment and terror in its eyes without having his heart turn over."

"Sweetheart - I write of sights and sounds and you write of home. Our combination of trading experiences I know keeps us both intensely interested."

"We have seen so much of the weaknesses of a democracy; but now we see its strength. A country is far bigger than its leader. It and its people march on...Perhaps, Roosevelt's passing will fire all statesmen and military leaders to rise above petty considerations and redouble their efforts to attain the goals their ex-leader strove for. That is what we humble GI's desire and what we're fighting for." ~ reaction to President Roosevelt's death

"I'm very tired tonight and want to turn in but I cannot feel satisfied that my day is complete unless I take off 20 mins to have our nightly chat."

"Despite the inconveniences we undergo while in uniform there is so much we can enjoy and look upon reflectively...I want to come home to you enriched yet sobered by what I've seen and done and ready to live out our lives together to the full."

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