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Breaking the Code: A Father's Secret, a Daughter's Journey, and the Question That Changed Everything Paperback – November 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402261128
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402261121
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,114,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Debut memoirist Fisher-Alaniz offers a sensitive account of how she helped her war-veteran father confront a traumatic memory he had carried with him for more than 50 years. Commendable for how it breaks the silence surrounding PTSD... a genuine tale told from the heart." - Kirkus

""engaging memoir"" - Publishers Weekly

"Breaking their own code of silence, father and daughter reach across the decades, recording an important chapter in history and forging a long-overdue personal bond." - Booklist

"I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about family and relationships, people interested in World War II history, those wanting to know more about PTSD, and readers who enjoy mysteries." - A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

"This was a very heart warming and heart wrenching book." -

"This reviewer highly recommends this book for all readers. Those with a family member in the armed services will appreciate the homage this book pays to our military. Those who don't personally know anyone in the military need to know how hard our military members work, not just during their active duty but for their entire lives." -

"I highly recommend Breaking the Code to those who want to learn more about the day-to-day life of a soldier serving in the Pacific in World War II, specifically in Honolulu. The letters relate in detail the frustration of the daily grind for a soldier left behind at base, and they stand in stark contrast to the descriptions her father gives when he eventually opens up about the trauma he suffered when he got close to the battle during his secret missions." - At Home With Books

"a story that left me covered with goosebumps time and again and eventually moved me to tears." -

"Fisher-Alaniz, a Walla Walla author, writes the true story of how her relationship with her 81-year-old father changed after he gave her two weathered notebooks containing more than 400 pages of letters he'd written to his parents during World War II, letters that revealed the pivotal role he played in breaking a top-secret Japanese code." - The Seattle Times

"a deeply touching journey of a father and daughter. If you know someone who has been through a war – WWII, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. – this will definitely hit close to home." - Reading Good Books

About the Author

Karen Alaniz is an author and writer, who began the journey of writing this memoir when her father handed her a collection of letters on his 81st birthday. She lives in Walla Walla, WA.

More About the Author

Karen Fisher-Alaniz is a former special education teacher. When her father began experiencing nightmares and flashbacks at the age of 81, more than 50 years after the war, she set out on a journey. Asking questions and reading more than 400 pages of letters he'd kept hidden, she began discovering a father she'd never known. Murray Fisher, who'd told her that he'd simply sat behind a desk during the war, was in fact involved in Naval Intelligence. In a riveting turn of events, she not only discovered his secret past, but also helped him find a pathway to healing.

Her father, now 92, often joins her at book signings and author events. Shortly after the book was published, Karen and her father were interviewed by Audie Cornish on NPR's, Weekend Edition.

Ms. Fisher-Alaniz holds a master's degree in education. She is a frequent speaker on the topic of memoir writing, as well as military veteran issues. Now a full time writer, she is working on a nonfiction book about Seattle, Washington portrait artist, and Vietnam veteran, Michael G. Reagan. She teaches a college course in life story writing, and still enjoys Wednesdays with Murray each week.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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This book is a memoir that reads like a fast paced novel.
Rainy Day
A book that tells the story of a father and daughter relationship that will live in their hearts for all time.
M. Lignor
The author has a way with narration, and dialog, that keeps the reader involved.
Barbara Barth

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lillian Ammann (Lillie) on October 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
The cover of the book calls it a memoir, but it is much more than that.

It is a story about relationships--the relationship of a father and daughter, the relationships of a man at war and his far-away family, the relationship of two sailors who knew little about each other but who were tied by a bond stronger than time.

The book is also a revealing picture of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a relentless and unpredictable enemy of warriors in conflicts past and present. The disorder may show itself immediately after a traumatic event, or it may stay hidden for fifty years, as it did in the case of Karen's father, Murray Fisher.

Although not written as history, Breaking the Code puts the reader in World War II from a perspective that most of today's generation have never experienced.

The story reads like a novel as the author tries to unravel the mystery of her father's past and the secrets he has kept for half a century.

Breaking the Code is a quick and easy read, but the author's dedication to helping her father, her father's service to his country, and her mother's love and faith will touch readers' hearts

I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about family and relationships, people interested in World War II history, those wanting to know more about PTSD, and readers who enjoy mysteries.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. Lignor on November 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a beautiful narrative and tribute to a parent that served in World War II, told by his daughter, who, at first, couldn't quite understand her Dad when he told his war stories. As is said in the book, when she was younger she didn't understand her parent and would not be able to discover why these stories of his time serving in the Navy would come up and why he would be despondent and not want to talk at all.

On his 81st birthday, the author's father gave her two old notebooks that were filled with letters that he had written to his parents when he was stationed in the Pacific during WWII. When she read them she began to realize that, although her father was always there for her and talked to her, they never really had a real conversation. He told her and her sister about his time in the Navy and the girls never really paid attention. When she started reading them, she realized that her father was a very complicated man that she never really knew. The author and her Dad met for lunch every week so she could ask him about some of the passages in the letters that she didn't understand. When this happened, she learned that he had been part of a small group of men who were being trained to break a top-secret code of the Japanese. Her grandparents thought that he had spent the war in Hawaii but, in reality, he had traveled with a group of men throughout the Paciific watched by FBI agents and ended up on Iwo Jima. In a small excerpt from the book, she states: I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Such a simple question, (Is there anyone that you hung out with or became friends with on the base? had led my father to share this new revelation. I dared not ask another question for fear that I'd break the spell and never know what secrets he harbored.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By kimbacaffeinate on November 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
Breaking the Code is a wonderful true story of a daughter's quest to transcribe WWII letters written by her father. What started out as a gift to her children, became a journey of learning, healing, self-discovery, bonding and understanding.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It was told in first person by Karen, the daughter of Murray Fisher. She speaks in a no-nonsense way that keeps you turning the pages. The book contains Murray's letters, postcards, photos, and some official documents. For war and history buffs, this is a rare look into the daily life of a Navy solider during the war.
I found the places, activities and Fisher's job(s) during the war to be very interesting. Karen Fisher-Alaniz offers us a rare glimpse into a very special, humble man and his struggle to deal with the memories. Breaking the Code was an emotional journey, and I found myself laughing and crying. I recommend this to all.
This would make the perfect holiday gift for anyone on your list.

I want to thank netGalley and Sourcebooks for this ARC, in exchange for my unbiased review.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By The Write Edge on November 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
The men and women in our armed forces have seen firsthand the horrors of war. Moreover, they have participated in those horrors, and many of them carry the responsibility--and often the burden--for doing so. Their contribution to the safety of our country remains unprecedented, but civilians forget the impact of these massive conflicts on the ones who elected to serve and mete out protection.

Karen Fisher-Alaniz's father, Murray Fisher, served in the navy during World War II, and although she heard his stories as she grew up she never thought about the impact those experiences had on her father. On his 81st birthday, Mr. Fisher pulled Karen aside, handed her two notebooks full of handwritten letters, and told her to do with those notebooks as she desired.

Curious, Karen discovered the letters were those her father had written his own parents during his time in WWII. As she began reading them, the letters transported her to a time she'd heard about so often and yet had never quite understood. And suddenly Karen had a connection to her father she'd never had before.

Breaking the Code takes readers on Karen's journey as she makes her way through the letters and discovers the secret her father had kept from her for so many years. In the latter part of WWII, Mr. Fisher received training to copy a code called Katakana based on the Japanese language. The Japanese used this code during the war to transmit secret messages, and the United States military managed to intercept the code and use trained code-breaking teams to copy, analyze, and forward the code to their superiors.

In an order that seemed to come straight from a spy movie, the instructor teaching Mr. Fisher and his code-breaking teammates made the severity of their work loud and clear.
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