BEYOND SURVIVAL: The ""Invincible Principles"" for Overcoming Adversity by Gerald Coffee

BEYOND SURVIVAL: The ""Invincible Principles"" for Overcoming Adversity

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In the prison-inspirational tradition of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning and Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice--the heart-clutching memoir of a man who forged meaning while mired in hell. Coffee's crucible was his seven-year stint as a POW in North Vietnam. Coffee--now a professional speechmaker--begins each chapter of his extraordinary chronicle with a short homily (e.g., ""Laughter sets the spirit free to move through even the most tragic circumstances. . .Humor is integral to our peace of mind and ability to go beyond survival""), then illuminates that message by the light of personal example (e.g., how in the midst of POW camp horror--""here I was in this dismal, stinking hole, body broken, totally uncertain of my future""--he noticed a sign in the wall--""Smile, you're on Candid Camera""--that allowed him to laugh out loud at ""the beautiful guy who has mustered the moxie to rise above his own dejection and frustration and pain and guilt to inscribe a line of encouragement to those who would come after him""). Not that Coffee had much more to laugh at: this is a hallowing tale, rife with passages of physical and psychic suffering--beginning with then-fighter pilot Coffee's February 1966 ejection, arm broken and face burned, from his crippled jet into a North Vietnamese river and soon the cruel hands of NVA captors. Coffee holds little back: the wrenching of his arms from their sockets while hanging from the wrists during torture; his terrifying loneliness, and then elation when making clandestine contact with other Yank POWs; his reversion to masturbation to relieve sexual tension; his writing, under torture, a letter critical of the US--all forming a brutally frank background against which to soft-pedal his hard-won affirmation of positive humanitarian values: American values, by his consistently patriotic account. Only modestly inspiring--the tinge of jingoism undercuts the moral lessons--but effectively sentimental, and wholly gripping as a POW adventure. Cleverly aimed at a mid-American readership--serial rights sold to Reader's Digest--and it could hit a bull's-eye.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1989
Publisher: Putnam