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Rachel's Children: Surviving the Second World War Paperback – September 19, 2010
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About the Author
Jean Rodenbough is a retired Presbyterian minister living in Greensboro, NC. A poet and writer who has published books on fiction, poetry, and pastoral care, she is active with organizations working for peace and justice. Jean's interests also include chip carving and playing the recorder.
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Despite the despair any reminder of this ongoing consequence of violence effects, I felt that inherent in Ms. Rodenbough’s purpose for this book was a desire to touch hearts and consciences through the hope and promise of war’s smallest and most blameless casualties and witnesses.
Reading this book reminded me of how personal lives, social conditions, cultural and religious distinctions, but also the commonalities of the human experience, are vital in any historical narrative. We cannot realize and learn from history if it doesn’t breathe fragilely and resiliently. Ken Burns has done this with his filmed documentaries, which offer discourses of history that are informative and emotive, recognize the significance of the seemingly insignificant, enlarge understanding, and bridge divides. Ms. Rodenbough has achieved something similarly effective through the gathering and presenting of these real-life stories, including her own as a child living in very close proximity to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, at the time her father a pathologist serving at the Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu. It was a very wise decision to let the reminiscences in this volume speak for themselves as they happened and in retrospection, and embrace them with the wisdom, spirituality, and compassion in her poetic voice.
We can always enlarge our knowledge of history, even when we think we know. When I went to England in the 1970s, I thought I had learned all I needed to about World War II through school, the stories of my father who had served in the Aleutian islands, my mother who had friends who lost brothers and fathers, and, of course, various film depictions. Then my British in-laws, as well as friends and colleagues described their experiences of German planes flying over, of seeing the sky light up when Coventry Cathedral was bombed, and of running for their lives into air raid shelters. I even lived in a Georgian house enlarged to lodge children evacuated from the bombings in London. I felt the energy of homesickness and uncertainty and, yes, even adventure, and couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like for children to face separation from family and friends, familiar schools and streets, all the time worrying about those they had left behind in harm’s way and wondering when and if they would return to life as they once knew it.
"Rachel’s Children" has now given me an even wider perspective on the effect World War II in particular and all wars have on children. It took me on a rollercoaster of condemnation and admiration, heartache and hope, and made me feel even stronger that the travesties of war have the most chance of being ended not by the oldest and most militarily and politically powerful, but by the youngest and most present and farsighted among us.
"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." ~ John F. Kennedy
The detail in all of these essays makes them fascinating. Each incident related seems more poignant than the last. One that struck me as particularly emotional was the story of two people who were involved with a mission hospital in Kenya thirty years after the war was over. They were eating dinner together and talking about their experiences during the war. The woman, a Dutch nurse, spoke about the horrors of the bombing of her home town by the German Luftwaffe. The man, a German doctor, revealed that he had been a navigator in the Luftwaffe. They were now working together for a good cause, but what they had experienced during that war would always be there.
Rodenbough has also weaved her poetry in among the recollections. This interesting addition unifies the book and allows readers to understand what she was feeling as she worked on the editing. I enjoyed that approach.
Any author writing a story from the World War II era would gain from reading this book. And any reader interested in world history would enjoy it.
Through haunting poetic images and reminiscences, the author forces us to raise our own consciousness from the very narrow confines of divided hearts. Japanese children as well as German suffered as a result of the barbarism of their parents. Jewish children, of course were scared more; responsibility was not theirs and the barbarity of the former has no equivalence in the dialogues of the concentration camp survivors. The author does not shirk responsibility for the war but suffers the children universally and takes them to sheltering arms.
Ms. Rodenbough lived near enough to Pearl Harbor to see the billowing smoke of our young treasure become martyrs. In harrowing letters, the reader is transported to the ever present horror of that Sunday morning, that day that still lives in infamy. From Honolulu to Hong Kong, or to Great Britain where children wore Mickey Mouse gas masks to ease their minds about the horror of the bombs. Rodenbough gently sways us with the truth that children are innocent and bombs indiscriminate.
Rodenbourg calls children of war to 'move forward without hatred, leaving a better world than they entered as children.' The scars of physical and emotional horror, both of limb and the fear of separation and displacement of millions, in America, as well as where direct physical dangers were ever-present, the scars of little Japanese children put in internment camps in America, the dispossessed, the dizzying shock to childhood leaves little to the imagination.
I am honored to put this novel on my shelf of the very best of literature I have ever read. It is truly outstanding and gives voice to those silent and brutalized the most. Their voices now heard, Rachel's children are calling us through the lamentations of time to understand they must be made safe. We must say,collectively, Rachel's children are our own.