Monday, December 9, 2013

"The Flame Keepers" by Ned Handy (2004)

One of my favorite Christmas movies has always been “Stalag 17” with William Holden. Though not considered to be a holiday film by most, the film does take place the week before Christmas. I always felt it offered somewhat of a real life peek inside of a POW camp. And in some respects it did just that. But, overall no movie can ever really capture the horror of being a Prisoner of War. When that film was made into a TV comedy called “Hogan’s Hero’s”, the bar between reality and what these prisoners actually went through was further blurred.

Imagine my surprise at finding this book in the stacks at the Mooresville Public Library in North Carolina the other day. Written by Mr. Handy in 2004 this book sets the record straight once and for all about Stalag 17. It wasn’t just a Broadway play, or a Hollywood movie, or even a TV show. It was years of hell for the men who lived through it; a hell they would never forget; though some would push it back further in their subconscious, only to have it come back to the forefront and haunt them years after the fact. Such was the case with Mr. Handy.

The film, written for the screen by director Billy Wilder and Edwin Blum; was originally a play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski. It is uncannily similar to this book. Where the film has a character named Animal, this book has one named Beast. There is also a fellow from Brooklyn and a few other recognizable characters who will remind you of the movie. This actually makes the whole thing immensely readable. It does not diminish, in any way, from the intensity of what Mr. Handy experienced. Rather, it heightens the experience as you have an immediate connection with the characters from having “seen” them before.

The men in Mr. Handy’s barracks decide to escape; and after obtaining permission from the barracks coordinator; actually dig a tunnel which connects to an abandoned storm drain. The book is an invaluable insight into what life was like for the thousands of Army Air Corp prisoners held by the Nazis all throughout the war.

The book is also an invaluable insight into the mind on one man; and those around him; and how they coped, or did not, with their long imprisonment. New ways to think and dream, as well as remember, become crucial to survival. The author makes this discovery early on in his ordeal, reinforcing the notion that the key to one’s freedom really does lie within.

Note: Mr. Handy, and his story, are featured in the Bonus Materials on the re-released version of the film "Stalag 17". I watched that part of the DVD for the first time last night after finishing this book.

No comments:

Post a Comment