Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Literally the Best Reviews: The Will to Survive

The Will to Survive - Karen Zale
Lulu.com Publishing
198 Pages

A couple of weeks ago, I was handed a book that I was told that I had to read. My friend, Chris, loaned me The Will to Survive by Karen Zale to read, which I was able to do over the course of a quiet afternoon. As with any local history, I was definitely interested in this book.

The Will to Survive is the story of a man who went off to war during World War II and ended up surviving some of the worst that man can do to itself. Written by his daughter, Karen, we learn the trials and tribulations of John Zale as he suffered through the ignominy of being a prisoner of war with the Japanese.

From a suburb of Buffalo to the war torn Pacific Theater, Zale found himself in the Philippines at the mercy of the Japanese. He survived the Bataan Death March and one of the prison camps before being sent on a prison ship and transferred to another prison. Each time, Zale beat the odds and survived. The cruelty of the Japanese were on full display and marked Zale’s outlook for the rest of his life. Known only by his prisoner number, #433, Zale made that number a part of his lifelong identity. When he got his personalized license plate, he incorporated it into the new plate number.

After the war, Zale struggled with what we today would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, although at that time, there was no diagnosis or treatment for his ailments. Despite that, Zale persevered and strived to lead a meaningful and productive life. He dedicated himself to helping mold young lives, with his own children and with countless Boy Scouts.

Karen Zale wanted to honor her father’s life with his book. His struggles  under the watchful, evil eyes of his Japanese captors made him a different man than the boy who left home. Those experiences as a prisoner truly defined the rest of his life, and his daughter attempted to showcase how adversity made the man. It is a tribute to his tenacity that he overcame the atrocities of the Japanese and led a fulfilling life with his family.

John Zale was a Western New York native. His story is more than just our hometown, though. All across the country, there were boys who went off to war, lived through some of the same experiences as Zale, and came home as men. Some weren’t as lucky as Zale. Adding the local flair to this book made it that much more intriguing for me to read. There is something extra in the reading when you realize that someone in our own neighborhood was one of the people in such a significant historical event, good or bad.

The Will to Survive by Karen Zale is a short, quick read at less than 200 pages, but it is very engaging and interesting. While the events of the war around her father are significant parts of the narrative, the story is all about her father. And what a story it is. It’s short. You will be able to read this relatively easily. Take the time.

Craig Bacon loves reading about history and the people who lived it.