The Great Escape: A Canadian Story – Ted Barris

the-great-escapeOn the Cover: On the night of March 24, 1944, 80 Commonwealth airmen crawled through a 336-foot-long tunnel and slipped into the forest beyond the wire of Stalag Luft III, a German POW compound near Sagan, Poland. The event became known as “The Great Escape,” an intricate breakout more than a year in the making, involving as many as 2,000 POWs working with extraordinary co-ordination, intelligence, and daring. Yet within a few days, all but three of the escapees were recaptured. Subsequently, fifty were murdered, cremated, and buried in a remote corner of the prison camp.

But most don’t know the real story behind The Great Escape. Now, on the eve of its 70th anniversary, Ted Barris writes of the key players in the escape attempt, those who got away, those who didn’t, and their families at home. Barris marshals groundbreaking research into a compelling firsthand account. For the first time, “The Great Escape: A Canadian Story” retells one of the most astonishing episodes in WWII directly through the eyes of those who experienced it.

Published: 2012

 


 

The Review:

The Great Escape: A Canadian Story takes an in-depth look at the Canadian role in the events of March 24, 1944. Yet what I found interesting about this book is that it is so much more than the Great Escape. The book covers time before the war, including brief histories on many of the key players and the events leading up to the men becoming prisoners of war. The book also follows those POWs past the Great Escape, through the end of the war and their tiring journey home. In between lies a gold mine of information, illuminating the life of a POW, activities in the compound, and the dozens of ingenious ways that POWs refurbished, retooled, and reengineered their surroundings to make life bearable and escape possible.

The opening chapters of the book provide a substantial amount of information. POW names, ranks, flight squadrons, and histories of Canadian roots all blur together. What surfaces from this deluge are individual stories of flight crews evacuating flaming bombers, stunning moments of men throwing themselves into the air or attempting to land their aircraft in any survivable way. Through the progression of the book, individual names begin to stand out, and by the end the book feels exactly as it should: like prisoners of war sitting with me and telling me their stories in their own voice.

This book is incredibly well researched, and I learned a great deal from the information contained within its pages. Barris is a champion for Canadian POWs and strives to tell their story with the greatest amount of respect and awe. The Great Escape: A Canadian Story is a humbling reading experience for Canadians and a wonderful historical resource for all.

Rating: 4 / 5

 

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Airborn – Kenneth Oppel

airbornOn The Cover: Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt’s always wanted; convinced he’s lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist’s granddaughter that he realizes that the man’s ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.

Published: 2005

Other Books by this Author:

Silverwing


 

The Review:

I was super nervous when I picked this book up. Kenneth Oppel’s book Silverwing was one of my all-time favourites growing up – yet I’ve never read any of Oppel’s other works. What if this book doesn’t live up to all of my beloved childhood memories of Oppel’s worlds? (No pressure, Airborn!)

Within the first few pages I was immersed. The same feelings I got from reading Silverwing were weaved throughout Airborn, and I felt practically giddy with happiness the entire time I was reading this book. Oppel has a way of sucking me into his worlds, of completely convincing me of his realities, and the excitement and adventure are so solid that I never have a moment of doubt when reading his books.

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Hands down my favourite aspect of this book is being on an airship. The descriptions of the ship flying, sailing, even landing and taking off are majestic. Oppel certainly has an appreciation for the beauty of flight. The descriptions of the airship itself were equally fascinating. Oppel manages to convey a great deal about the ship’s inner workings using very little description, and Matt’s viewpoint was especially well utilized to give the reader an inside view to every working aspect of the airship. I also appreciated that the action itself used every corner of the airship – from the passenger lounges to the outside sails, from the cargo bays to the bridge, the book was inside and out of the airship and I absolutely loved how much the airship was used. It was not just a setting – it was an integral part of the story, intertwined in the narrative itself.

Perhaps the easiest complaint would be to pinpoint the simplicity of the characters. On the surface the characters are young, naïve, and appear as one dimensional – Kate is a rich brat, and Matt has only one desire in life – to fly. But as I progressed through the book I began to appreciate both characters for their subtleties and the nuances of their choices. I do think these characters will appeal to the younger side of YA readers – but the adventure contained in these pages will appeal to readers of any age who only want to soar above the clouds.

Rating: 5 / 5

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Quotations:

“The ornithopter’s drone grew louder. Crouching, I could just see it, behind the Aurora’s tail fins, coming in. It seemed to be hardly moving, wings scarcely beating now, and I thought he would make it first try. But when the ornithopter was only feet away from the docking trapeze, it shuddered and dipped, and I heard shouts of alarm from the passengers as the ornithopter dropped away and banked sharply.” (OverDrive eBook)

“The foliage was so high and thick that I couldn’t see the sky. The humid air pressed against my chest. Great pine-like trees, with slender drooping branches, bristled with spiky flowers. Ferns and fronds and vines and brilliant petals were everywhere. A shrieking parrot flashed by, scarlet and green. Insects chattered in the perfumed heat. I kept looking for the light between trees, the brightness overhead, just wanting to punch through it all. Just wanting a horizon.” (OverDrive eBook)