Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book Review: Breaking the Code

Breaking the Code was a recent release on our library's bookshelf. In the book, Karen Fisher-Alaniz tells of receiving an unexpected gift from her father on his 81st birthday. He presented her with a stack of over 400 pages worth of letters which he had written home during his experiences in the war. Up to this point, Karen hadn't really even thought to ask about what his war-time life had been like. He had shared brief stories, during her childhood, but had never really revealed fully the more intense aspects of his life during the war. He had been experiencing some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, waking from nightmares, and, through the letters, Karen began to unravel some of the details of his past.

It took her many years, but she was determined to transcribe all of his letters (a difficult task, since his handwriting was minuscule). It brought to mind the several years I spent transcribing C.S. Lewis' personal letters. There is something about transcribing letters that I find so appealing. It is like you are a fly on the wall, suddenly privy to a private world you never knew existed. Karen found this to be true, as well.

Over time, she began to meet with her father to ask questions about what she read and discovered that he had been sworn to secrecy for his involvement in translating the Japanese Katakana code. The intense warning not to disclose his involvement in this mission was so strong that he internalized all of it to the point of almost forgetting his involvement entirely.

This was an interesting read, reminiscent of the movie by the same name, "Breaking the Code," which starred Derek Jacobi (one of my favorite actors) as a mathematician who broke the Germans' Enigma code.


Karen Fisher-Alaniz said...

Thank you for the nice review. I agree with you about transcribing letters. It's something I've had a hard time putting into words. As you read in the book, I also couldn't seem to make it make sense to my practical husband. The transcribing and reading of his letters in itself felt like I was cracking a code of sorts. Hadn't thought of that until reading your post. Thank you for that! ~Karen Fisher-Alaniz

Wendy said...

Karen - it is always nice to hear back from an author. I loved my involvement in the transcription of letters during my college years and loved reading about your experiences, as well.