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The Special Prisoner Paperback – May 8, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

An overwhelming sense of symmetry permeates The Special Prisoner, but it doesn't come in the lovely, harmonious, balanced variety. Instead it's the terrifying symmetry of life at its most basic, of innocence, guilt, death, and rebirth. Jim Lehrer's hero, Bishop John Quincy Watson, is imprisoned alternately in physical and metaphysical realms throughout the novel, a "man of God and grace" who comes to wrestle with a "long-dormant barbaric monster ... waiting in his soul."

This retired Methodist is an all-American boy who did his duty for his country in World War II at a high personal cost. Shot down over Tokyo on his 17th mission as the young pilot of a B-29 Superfortress, Watson spent the rest of the war in a Japanese POW camp. Designed specifically for bomber crews--who were considered the worst of the White Devils--it was run by a particularly ruthless guard called the Hyena. As the novel opens, the now 70-year-old, crippled Bishop has just spotted Tashimoto, the Hyena, in an airport in Texas, casually boarding a plane. Memories of the camp come flooding back and slam head-on into what Watson had presumed was a rock-solid wall of spiritual piety, and he quickly sets off on a mission of revenge. He tracks his prey to a hotel room in San Diego, and what happens next plunges him into recollections of unspeakable horror, changing his life irrevocably. The novel becomes a vicious game of back and forth between past and present, captor and captive; the Bishop unwittingly slides in and out of each role as he confronts the demon without and ousts the demon within. But is Tashimoto really the demon he seeks? If not, what monsters of delusion has the Bishop actually let loose?

Lehrer explores questions of guilt, shame, forgiveness, and self-examination with an obvious passion, if not intellectual rigor, and his eye for detail is sharp. He intertwines the stories with the precision of a chainlink fence, using such devices as the interplay between the Hyena's bamboo stick and the crippled Bishop's cane. The Special Prisoner is a densely packed, suspenseful read that gets more captivating as it gathers speed. --S. Ketchum --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

As in his previous novel, White Widow, the plot of newscaster-writer Lehrer's newest book turns on a chance encounter. In this case the pivotal meeting is between retired Methodist Bishop John Quincy Watson of San Antonio, Tex., an elderly ex-B-29 pilot and POW, and a Japanese businessman in whose eyes Watson sees the stare of the interrogator who tortured him. Incredulous that his old nemesis could have survived, Watson nevertheless discovers that the stranger has checked into a San Diego hotel under the interrogator's last name, and he decides to confront him. Mr. Tashimoto, however, denies he is the former camp official his prisoners nicknamed "the Hyena" because of his sadistic laugh. With this tension-filled standoff underway, Lehrer suspensefully alternates between Watson's harrowing memories of WWII and his present-day cat-and-mouse interrogation with the roles reversed. The first half of the narrative is a provocative, at times wrenching, dramatization of racism, war crimes and revenge--with right not necessarily on Watson's side--but the second is deprived of much of its drive when Watson tragically loses control of the situation and is brought to trial for his violent behavior. Although the ending does not satisfactorily resolve the moral ambiguity of its tantalizing premise, Lehrer's novel successfully illuminates still-sensitive issues for both the U.S. and Japan. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586480421
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586480424
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,467,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Jayson Olson on June 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
`The Special Prisoner' is a special book. Jim Lehrer has scripted a beautiful and emotional tale about a WWII American B-29 pilot coming to grips with horrid memories that he would like to have forgotten over the past 50 years and his ability to forgive.
Quincy Watson, known as Big Red during his runs over Japan today is a fragile shell of what he could have been. Today as a retired Methodist Bishop, he `accidentally' runs into the man who tortured him so many years ago in a POW camp. The man known as `Hyena' killed many of Watson's compatriots in numerous and sickening ways, the whole time playing mind games with Watson. But Watson didn't escape easily after the war. His leg is maimed, his reproductive organs shattered, he is numb to death, and hate begins to bubble down inside. This is where Quincy spends the next 50 years recovering, an emotional hurdle to overcome, where religion is discovered and forgiveness is a key element. But his life is put to a new test in his 70's, as the world as he knew it was over, a shocking sight open up all wounds. What do you say to the man who controlled whether you lived or died if you bumped into him today?
The story is amazing, simply put. It is a fairly easy read, but the images and descriptions of the atrocities of what happens in the POW camps will leave the reader not only speechless but asking themselves of their own capacity for forgiveness. What is equally presented here is the opinions and perspectives of the Japanese. Is it really that cut and dry for Americans? I challenge you to read the side of the Japanese mentality and you may learn more about yourself than you thought you knew.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Robert Oliver on May 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a novel about the best and worst of the human spirit; and some of the terrible legacies of war. The main character in the story is Bishop John Quincy Watson of the Methodist Church. In 1945 Watson was a B-29 bomber pilot, flying missions over Japan. On his seventeenth mission his plane went down over Tokyo, and he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. The Japanese authorities called downed American airmen "Special Prisoners", and reserved for them especially brutal treatment and death. Bishop Watson survived the war, but his body and soul had been permanently maimed in the Japanese prison. After the war Watson became a minister. One day fifty years after the war had ended Watson was in the Dallas Airport, and he saw the face of a man that he believed was one of the main commanders of the prison camp in Japan. Every day of his life for fifty years he had suffered pain and disability from his time as a prisoner of war in Japan, and now the source of his pain was standing before him in the airport. Watson began following the Japanese man, seeking a confrontation with him. The chapters in the book begin switching back and forth from the past to the present, describing events from the war and Watson's confrontation with the Japanese commander. Much of the little known history of American prisoners of war in Japan is given in the novel. As a minister Bishop Watson believed in forgiveness; but could he find a way to forgive a very real monster from his past? There are several moments in the novel that will go straight to your heart. There is a rising sense of tension as you keep reading; and a deep sense of wrenching truth about the nature of forgiveness and the lasting horror of war. There is a very haunting, moving quality to this novel that I will always remember. This is a deeply felt novel that I highly recommend.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Sharon Adams on June 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm not a regular reader or necessarily a fan of short or long fiction. When I heard this book hyped on IMUS, I decided to give it a try. Of course, I've been a fan of Jim Lehrer for years -- his no nonsense approach to journalism.
"The Special Prisoner" is an easy terrific read -- short but surprisingly complex in its treatment of major issues associated with war and theology.
The book's essence is heavy and somewhat depressing. There is nothing the least bit light and funny about this story. A great story to read in remembrance of our veterans who gave so much that we might be free.
Highly recommended.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on May 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
That comment is made by a European Chef who wishes to extend his best wishes to The Reverend Bishop Watson the book's main character. The response comes from a dear friend of the Bishop while they are speaking of many serious issues, some heinous. The Bishop's friend responds, "We were talking about sex, specifically about getting the Bishop laid". I suppose this type of humor is possible in the circumstances portrayed, only by men who have experienced hell on earth together. Both men were Prisoners Of War interned in a hell created by their Japanese captors. That this passage in the book works, and does so brilliantly, is a credit to the Author Mr. Jim Lehrer.
This is a story that contains horrible historical truths and the impact they can have on the victims. Issues of revenge and retribution, divine and personal forgiveness, a man's loyalty to both the Bishop's office he has held, and the loyalty to and truth about himself he must face.
This is not a long work, but I sat up until 3:30 this morning so I could finish it in one sitting. It was very much worth the lost sleep. This is not an easy book to read, and the issues it addresses are not resolved to this day. The dilemmas, moral and otherwise are faced by individuals, their sons, and as always the government which does not always make the best choice, just the best political decision.
Mr. Lehrer is well known on both television, and as a writer. He is a veteran, which brings authenticity to the story, which is enforced by his Brother who is a Minister who helped with the contents.
A disturbing read, but one that is very much worth your time.
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