Front-Line Worker

A family’s postwar trials

Prisoner-of-war accounts of the Second World War fill a significant number of shelves, with some of the most shocking set in Japanese camps: Pierre Boulle’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, from 1952; Gavan Daws’s Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific, from 1994; Dave McIntosh’s Hell on Earth: Aging Faster, Dying Sooner, from 1997; Alistair Urquhart’s The Forgotten Highlander: My Incredible Story of Survival during the War in the Far East, from 2010; Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, from 2014; Louis Zamperini’s two memoirs, both titled Devil at My Heels. The list goes on and on. It’s not that these novels and memoirs are all  identical — they aren’t. But in so many of them, there is a pivotal sameness that gathers around well-documented cruelty, as well as the stoic courage that inevitably envelops many of the survivors. The field...