In her first book, former Utne Reader editor in chief Madison comes to terms with her father, a scarred veteran who waited until the day before he died at 78 to tell her he loved her.
Taken prisoner in July 1950, just after his arrival in Korea, U.S. Army Medical Corps Capt. Alexander Boysen remained captive for 38 months and 12 days. The author gradually fills us in on the ghastly details of her father’s captivity, interleaving those chapters with her own memories of an oppressive household dominated by the aloof, unpredictable “Doc.” Growing up on a succession of Army bases, she and her younger brothers endured the common parental admonitions about cleaning your plate and not talking back. But these, and lectures about loyalty, grooming, trust, and modesty, were all delivered with a peculiar intensity and enforced with disproportionate discipline. Not until his death did Madison begin to understand the reasons why. Relying largely on accounts of her father's fellow prisoners, a scrapbook kept by her mother, and a manuscript Doc authored, the author pieces together the full, horrific dimensions of her father’s imprisonment in a series of North Korean camps: forced marches through winter weather, rifle butts to the back and shoulders, pistol shots to the head, frozen feet, filth, lice, malnutrition, widespread infections, disease, and death. Only 27 when captured, Doc learned why some men lived and others died. He set about “force-feeding hope,” intentionally disrupting the lethal cycle that began with the loss of personal pride and too often ended in pitiful death. He became a hero to the men in his care. After his ordeal, he enforced the same code with his family. To his children, the strict regimen and the reign of fear and force were simply baffling and sometimes cruel. Madison’s vivid childhood vignettes demonstrate that decades before PTSD became an accepted diagnosis, her father continued to fight a war that for him never really ended.
A heartfelt account of a family fractured by war and its awful aftereffects.