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A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War

Written by Louise SteinmanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Louise Steinman


List Price: $12.99


On Sale: May 07, 2013
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-1-58394-790-6
Published by : North Atlantic Books North Atlantic Books
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Synopsis|Excerpt|Table of Contents


Louise Steinman’s American childhood in the fifties was bound by one unequivocal condition: “Never mention the war to your father.” That silence sustained itself until the fateful day Steinman opened an old ammunition box left behind after her parents’ death. In it she discovered nearly 500 letters her father had written to her mother during his service in the Pacific War and a Japanese flag mysteriously inscribed to Yoshio Shimizu. Setting out to determine the identity of Yoshio Shimizu and the origins of the silken flag, Steinman discovered the unexpected: a hidden side of her father, the green soldier who achingly left his pregnant wife to fight for his life in a brutal 165-day campaign that changed him forever. Her journey to return the “souvenir” to its owner not only takes Steinman on a passage to Japan and the Philippines, but also returns her to the age of her father’s innocence, where she learned of the tender and expressive man she’d never known. Steinman writes with the same poignant immediacy her father did in his letters. Together their stories in The Souvenir create an evocative testament to the ways in which war changes one generation and shapes another.


From the Prologue: Somewhere at SeaIn January 1944 when my father crossed the Pacific for the first time, he did not know where he was going. He did not know he was headed for New Zealand. He did not know that after a year of training and waiting, first in New Zealand then in New Caledonia, he and his army buddies in the Twenty-fifth Infantry Division would be transported to northern Luzon, the Philippines, where they would sweat out five and a half months of combat.The monotony, the uncertainty of the destination, the hot sun, the loneliness, the roiling sea all took their toll on him. “I’ve never felt so blue. It’s the thought of leaving you. I hope I can get over it soon, because it’s a terrible state of affairs,” he wrote to his wife—my mother—from the confines of a transport ship.As the realization of a long separation sank in—months, possibly years—his mood veered toward panic then settled into depression. Writing letters was his only relief. “Dear Anne,” he wrote home, “I’m sorry that you won’t hear from me for such a long time until you get this letter, but because of the safety precautions and secrecy involved (for our own good), I wasn’t allowed to tell you when I left the States.” To describe his location, he wrote simply “Somewhere at Sea” in the upper right-hand corner of each letter.My father—a graduate of De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx, with a math degree from New York University—was lacking his usual reference points. No Sunday New York Times, no conversations with his parents, no weekly lectures at the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library. And the most grievous lack of all—his wife.It was not like the pragmatic father I knew to daydream, sitting motionless, spinning in his imagination every inch of his wife’s body. Her hair. Her smile. The way she wore hats. He composed letters in his mind, wrote them down when the seasickness abated...

Table of Contents

Chronology . . . xi
Somewhere at Sea . . . 1

Part i: Stateside
The Pharmacist . . . 11
The Flag . . . 19
Into the Deep . . . 41
A Melancholy Slav . . . 49
Speculation . . . 63
The Gift . . . 75
Questions . . . 81

Part ii: Japan
Bombs under Tokyo . . . 93
Shrine of the Peaceful Country . . . 105
Shadows . . . 119
Amazing Grace . . . 129

Part 111: The Philippines
The American Cemetery . . . 143
Journey to Balete Pass . . . 155
Promised Land . . . 181

Part iv: Suibara
Swans in the Morning . . . 189
Flyover . . . 201

Afterword to the New Edition . . . 203
Book Group Questions . . . 207
Selected Bibliography . . . 211
Praise | Awards


“Exceptional . . . a graceful, understated memoir . . . that draws its strength from the complexities it explores.”—The New York Times Book Review“Ms. Steinman skillfully weaves her father’s emotional letters into the present-day story line, sensitively taking readers through Norman Steinman’s transformation from naïve American soldier to hardened combat veteran. . . . The Souvenir underscores the indescribable way war affects not only veterans but also their families and future generations.”—The Dallas Morning News“The book is the story of entwined ‘gifts’ resulting from [a] personal journey—Steinman’s discovery of a side of her father she never expected to share. For many, her account could provide an understanding of how the war changed one generation and shaped the next.” —Library Journal (starred review)“A moving memoir about reconciliation and honor.”—Publisher’s WeeklyThe Souvenir is a powerful testament that, regardless of time and place, the effect of war on the human spirit remains the same. Steinman’s remarkable discovery shows how war separates our common humanity. It is a journey to repair that broken bond, a journey to know the humanity of those we have made enemies.”—Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone“Partly a detective story, partly a meditation on the legacy of war . . . this is a bold, unusual, and moving book.”—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s GhostThe Souvenir is an intimate and powerful story of the effects of war.”—James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Father“Luckily for her readers, Ms. Steinman . . . interviewed not only American veterans of the Pacific war, but Japanese veterans as well. In this quest, she discovered more than just her father’s wartime souvenir; she discovered her father’s war and those experiences that shaped the life of her family in the ’50s. . . . The Souvenir is a graceful blend of history, wartime storytelling and investigative reporting that dives deep into the traumatic experiences of war. Military enthusiasts, especially veterans and their families, will find The Souvenir a proactive [and] rewarding read.”—The Jewish Veteran


WINNER 2002 Gold Medal in Autobiography/Memoir from ForeWord Magazine
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Steinman’s quest began with the discovery of the box of letters and the flag. She also mentions other “souvenirs” in the book–an antique ring and a small silver wine cup. What objects in your daily life contain important memories? Why?

2. Steinman had little knowledge about the Pacific War when she began reading her father’s letters and her quest led her to conduct extensive research. How has “The Souvenir” deepened/changed your understanding of that conflict?

3. What is the difference between reading a history book about WW II in the Pacific and reading a personal story about the war? How does this allow you–the reader–to “enter” into history. Are there veterans in your own family? Have you ever asked them questions about their experiences?

4. Individual countries look at their past conflicts within their own accepted views of history. Steinman explores some of the discrepancies between the Japanese and the U.S. official views about on Hiroshima. Does her examination of the rhetoric from both sides add to your understanding of this pivotal event? What does her friend Shoji Kurokami–a native of Hiroshima-- mean when he says, “”Some people may think bomb was good–and maybe that’s OK. But to me, bomb is bomb.”

5. The Smithsonian Museum’s proposed exhibit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II was fraught with controversy. Steinman repeats the words of a Smithsonian official, “The veterans wanted the exhibit to stop when the doors to the bomb bay opened. And that’s where the Japanese wanted it to begin.” (p. 135) Why is it important for former combatant nations to look at history together?

6. One of the veterans Steinman interviewed said “your father would be rolling over in his grave” at the idea of Steinman attempting to return the flag. Do you agree?

7. Steinman owns to her naiveté about the Pacific War when she first found her father’s letters. How might her naivete been a hindrance to her quest to return the flag? How might it have been a help?

8. Steinman says that she could understand why the WW II veterans she interviewed were still bitter towards the Japanese. Do you think that reconciliation between groups in conflict must wait for later generations? Why?

9. Steinman says she inherited an antipathy to Filipino cuisine because of her father’s experience in the war. How are prejudices transmitted to the next generation? What prejudices and stereotypes of other cultures might you have inherited through your family’s history?

10. The paradox of the actual souvenir flag is that it means different things to different people. What does it mean to Steinman, her father, the Pacific vets she interviewed? What doe sit mean to Yoshio Shimizu and Shimizu’s family?

11. Some authors write whole novels about places they have never visited, only imagined. Do you think it was necessary for Steinman to journey to Balete Pass in northern Luzon, the Philippines to understand her father’s experience in the war? How does her visit to the actual place inform the book?

12. Why do you think Norman and Anne Steinman preserved Norman’s war letters–even though he wouldn’t discuss the war?

13. Steinman writes that she was shocked by some of the language in her father’s letters. How was that language in keeping with the war propaganda towards the Japanese enemy then current in the United States? How was the enemy demonized by both sides in the Pacific War?

14. The villagers in Suibara welcomed Steinman with both warmth and formality. Why does the entire village turn out to meet her? Do you think such a communal reception would be possible in the United States were the roles reversed and a Japanese daughter returned the souvenir of an American soldier to his family?

15. There are several passages of fiction or what Steinman calls “speculation” in “The Souvenir”–the Passover scene and the vision of Yoshio at the end of the book. What do these sections add to your understanding of Steinman’s quest?

16. Steinman’s own journey to understand her father is intercut with her father’s journey to the Pacific and back. How do these two journeys comment on one another? How might the book have been different if Steinman had not included her father’s letters?

17. “So many unknowables in a life, . . .How a name on a piece of cloth could propel you halfway around the world.” How does her encounter with the Shimizu family affect Steinman? How does it affect the Shimizus?

18. Steinman tries to look at the war from the Japanese POV. The “official” Japanese view is to be found in institutions like Yasukuni Shrine and the Hiroshima Peace Museum. What does she learn from talking to the villagers in Suibara that departs from the official view?

19. While visiting the American cemetery in Manila, Steinman writes that her father wanted to bury his memories. “His desires were irreconcilable: He wanted to never forget and he needed to never remember.” What is gained or lost by forgetting? What is gained or lost by remembering?

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