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Breaking the Code: A Father's Secret, a Daughter's Journey, and the Question That Changed Everything

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Overview

On his 81st birthday, without explanation, Karen Fisher-Alaniz's father placed two weathered notebooks on her lap. Inside were more than 400 pages of letters he'd written to his parents during WWII. She began reading them, and the more she read, the more she discovered about the man she never knew.

They began to meet for lunch every week, for her to ask him questions, and him to provide the answers. It was through this process that she discovered the secret role he played in ...

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Breaking the Code: A Father's Secret, a Daughter's Journey, and the Question That Changed Everything

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Overview

On his 81st birthday, without explanation, Karen Fisher-Alaniz's father placed two weathered notebooks on her lap. Inside were more than 400 pages of letters he'd written to his parents during WWII. She began reading them, and the more she read, the more she discovered about the man she never knew.

They began to meet for lunch every week, for her to ask him questions, and him to provide the answers. It was through this process that she discovered the secret role he played in WWII. Karen's father was part of a small and elite group of men who were trained to copy and break top-secret Japanese code transmitted in Katakana.

Through this journey, with painful memories now at the forefront of his thoughts, Karen's father began to suffer, making their meetings as much about healing as discovery. Thus began an unintended journey-one taken by a father and daughter who thought they knew each other-as they became newly bound in ways that transcended age and time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
On his 81st birthday, Murray Fisher, a WWII veteran, gave his daughter Karen 400 letters he’d sent home to his family during the war. Growing up, as freelance writer Fisher-Alaniz tells in this engaging memoir, she had heard her father’s stories about his office job while stationed in Hawaii in the 1940s, but was never interested enough to ask questions. Then, as an adult, she realized that although he’d been a loving parent, what she knew about him filled up a single page—until she received the letters. Her curiosity sparked, she decides to make her way through her father’s vivid letters and suddenly has many questions, including why her father was so determined not to talk about his wartime experiences. While attempting to unearth her father’s past, she finds the opportunity to establish a new relationship. They begin having weekly lunches and visits, and her father opens up, revealing he’d actually been in naval intelligence as a Japanese code breaker, shipping overseas to Iwo Jima. As Fisher-Alaniz and her father continue their conversations , she hears a devastating secret her father has been holding onto for 60 years, and with which she must now deal. (Dec.)
Booklist
Breaking their own code of silence, father and daughter reach across the decades, recording an important chapter in history and forging a long-overdue personal bond.
Bookpleasures.com
This reviewer highly recommends this book for all readers. Those with a family member in the armed services will appreciate the homage this book pays to our military. Those who don't personally know anyone in the military need to know how hard our military members work, not just during their active duty but for their entire lives.
Ekta Garg
At Home With Books
I highly recommend Breaking the Code to those who want to learn more about the day-to-day life of a soldier serving in the Pacific in World War II, specifically in Honolulu. The letters relate in detail the frustration of the daily grind for a soldier left behind at base, and they stand in stark contrast to the descriptions her father gives when he eventually opens up about the trauma he suffered when he got close to the battle during his secret missions.
JAJance.com
a story that left me covered with goosebumps time and again and eventually moved me to tears.
J.A. Jance
The Seattle Times
Fisher-Alaniz, a Walla Walla author, writes the true story of how her relationship with her 81-year-old father changed after he gave her two weathered notebooks containing more than 400 pages of letters he'd written to his parents during World War II, letters that revealed the pivotal role he played in breaking a top-secret Japanese code.
Reading Good Books
a deeply touching journey of a father and daughter. If you know someone who has been through a war — WWII, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. — this will definitely hit close to home.
From the Publisher
"Debut memoirist Fisher-Alaniz offers a sensitive account of how she helped her war-veteran father confront a traumatic memory he had carried with him for more than 50 years. Commendable for how it breaks the silence surrounding PTSD... a genuine tale told from the heart." - Kirkus

""engaging memoir"" - Publishers Weekly

"Breaking their own code of silence, father and daughter reach across the decades, recording an important chapter in history and forging a long-overdue personal bond." - Booklist

"I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about family and relationships, people interested in World War II history, those wanting to know more about PTSD, and readers who enjoy mysteries." - A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

"This was a very heart warming and heart wrenching book." - Bookpleasures.com

"This reviewer highly recommends this book for all readers. Those with a family member in the armed services will appreciate the homage this book pays to our military. Those who don't personally know anyone in the military need to know how hard our military members work, not just during their active duty but for their entire lives." - Bookpleasures.com

"I highly recommend Breaking the Code to those who want to learn more about the day-to-day life of a soldier serving in the Pacific in World War II, specifically in Honolulu. The letters relate in detail the frustration of the daily grind for a soldier left behind at base, and they stand in stark contrast to the descriptions her father gives when he eventually opens up about the trauma he suffered when he got close to the battle during his secret missions." - At Home With Books

"a story that left me covered with goosebumps time and again and eventually moved me to tears." - JAJance.com

"Fisher-Alaniz, a Walla Walla author, writes the true story of how her relationship with her 81-year-old father changed after he gave her two weathered notebooks containing more than 400 pages of letters he'd written to his parents during World War II, letters that revealed the pivotal role he played in breaking a top-secret Japanese code." - The Seattle Times

"a deeply touching journey of a father and daughter. If you know someone who has been through a war — WWII, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. — this will definitely hit close to home." - Reading Good Books

Kirkus Reviews

Debut memoirist Fisher-Alaniz offers a sensitive account of how she helped her war-veteran father confront a traumatic memory he had carried with him for more than 50 years.

On the day Murray Fisher turned 81, he gave the author two notebooks filled with more than 400 pages of letters he had written to his parents while he was stationed at Pearl Harbor during World War II. Baffled, the author took it upon herself to not only read and transcribe his letters (several of which appear in the book) but to understand the motivations behind her father's unexpected gesture. She knew he had served in the Navy and that he had "spent his days working in an office." She did not know, however, that he had been trained to copy Katakana, the code the Japanese military had used to communicate top-secret information. Her father could never speak of his work to outsiders because "anyone could be a spy." In March 1945, Fisher and a fellow code breaker and friend were sent to Okinawa, where a shrapnel wound killed the friend. Fisher's grief and guilt were so intense that he suffered a temporary breakdown. This story of an adult child learning to understand a parent she thought she knew is simple and unpretentious.While the narrative lacks literary finesse, it is nevertheless commendable for how it breaks thesilence surrounding PTSD. "Whether the veteran returned from war sixty years ago or six days ago," she writes, "one thing remains constant: it's time for us to talk and to listen."

Not the most elegant memoir, but a genuine tale told from the heart.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402261121
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/1/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 284,885
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Alaniz is an author and writer, who began the journey of writing this memoir when her father handed her a collection of letters on his 81st birthday. She lives in Walla Walla, WA.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 14, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Much More Than a Mem­oir

    Break­ing the Code: A Father's Secret, A Daughter's Jour­ney and the Ques­tion That Changed Every­thing by Karen Fisher-Alaniz is a non-fiction book which tells about the author's research into her father's ser­vice in World War II.

    On his 81st birth­day Mur­ray Fisher gave his daugh­ter the let­ters he wrote his par­ents while serv­ing in the US Navy in World War II. When sort­ing through the let­ters his daughter, Karen Fisher-Alaniz the author, uncov­ered her father's past while learn­ing about the lin­ger­ing trauma that bugged the man who brought her up.

    I love read­ing about World War II and espe­cially mem­oirs of the "Great­est Gen­er­a­tion" who, unfortunately is leav­ing us by the thou­sands each week. Many of those dying have amaz­ing sto­ries which will for­ever be untold, projects like Speilberg's "Sur­vivors of the Shoah Visual His­tory " are extremely impor­tant not only for for the chil­dren of the "Great­est Gen­er­a­tion" but also for future his­to­ri­ans and for a bet­ter world. Which is why, when I was offered to join the tour for Break­ing the Code by Karen Fisher-Alaniz I jumped at the oppor­tu­nity - I was not disappointed.

    The book is much more than a mem­oir, it is a heart­felt trib­ute to a man who has been strug­gling with demons his whole life, yet became a pro­duc­tive mem­ber of society, bringing up proud future gen­er­a­tions by set­ting exam­ple of an exem­plary life. Ms. Fisher-Alaniz dis­cusses in the book how she never lis­tened to her father's sto­ries grow­ing up, some­thing I believe we are all guilty of. When she received the let­ters he wrote his par­ents, the basis of this book, she regret­ted blow­ing off those sto­ries, but a teenager's mind is still a mys­tery to sci­ence and humanity.

    Mr. Fisher, the author's father, was a code­breaker and under con­stant sur­veil­lance with a threat of death hang­ing over his head if he talked too much. The pres­sure and respon­si­bil­ity were huge for the young man. Other events (which I will not spoil) caused Mr. Fisher to come back with Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der (PTSD), a trauma which has been recorded for cen­turies but only recently has been acknowl­edged and stud­ied. A prod­uct of a by-gone era, Mr. Fisher's reluc­tance to get help only hurt him and with the rev­e­la­tion of the let­ters and his daughter's inves­ti­ga­tion his past came back to haunt him.

    A Father's Secret is a fast read, some of the mul­ti­tude of let­ters Mr. Fisher wrote dur­ing World War II from Hawaii, Oki­nawan, Iwo Jima and more are in the book. Each chap­ter includes a let­ter with the author's story inter­twinded within.

    I have read many mem­oirs and fam­ily sto­ries, Break­ing the Code stands out from the rest due mainly to the story it's telling. Many of the books are writ­ten for fam­ily mem­bers — and that's great — but for those of us who didn't know the sub­ject they do not sta

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Why was her father suffering from PTSD if he only had a desk job

    Why was her father suffering from PTSD if he only had a desk job during WWII? Daughter Karen forges a closer relationship with her reticent father through pushing him to tell stories about his service in WWII. Somewhat slow but well-written and beautifully done with personal WWII photos and scans of letters, postcards, documents, and bits of ephemera. Readers will live through Karen’s journey of discovery, hoping to find a happy ending for her father.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2012

    If you like human relationship stories, you'll like this one.

    I loved the book .. mostly because it was a father/daughter story and I think many times daughters don't get to know their dads until later in life, as was my case. I learned some war information that I didn't know and am always amazed what everyday guys were asked to do during wartime. I felt like it was a hometown story since I'm from Spokane and have visited Dayton.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 2, 2011

    A heartfelt tribute to a parent that served in World War II

    This is a beautiful narrative and tribute to a parent that served in World War II, told by his daughter, who, at first, couldn't quite understand her Dad when he told his war stories. As is said in the book, when she was younger she didn't understand her parent and would not be able to discover why these stories of his time serving in the Navy would come up and why he would be despondent and not want to talk at all.


    On his 81st birthday, the author's father gave her two old notebooks that were filled with letters that he had written to his parents when he was stationed in the Pacific during WWII. When she read them she began to realize that, although her father was always there for her and talked to her, they never really had a real conversation. He told her and her sister about his time in the Navy and the girls never really paid attention. When she started reading them, she realized that her father was a very complicated man that she never really knew. The author and her Dad met for lunch every week so she could ask him about some of the passages in the letters that she didn't understand. When this happened, she learned that he had been part of a small group of men who were being trained to break a top-secret code of the Japanese. Her grandparents thought that he had spent the war in Hawaii but, in reality, he had traveled with a group of men throughout the Paciific watched by FBI agents and ended up on Iwo Jima. In a small excerpt from the book, she states: I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Such a simple question, (Is there anyone that you hung out with or became friends with on the base?) had led my father to share this new revelation. I dared not ask another question for fear that I'd break the spell and never know what secrets he harbored.

    The author's father and five other men had been sent to code-breaking school and were informed that from this moment on everything that they did was top secret. They couldn't reveal their job to their tent mates or anyone else, including family. They would be watched at all times and their mail would be censored. They were not to talk about anything in letters home. Even a hint of what they were doing would be reason for a court martial. The author and her Dad went on this painful journey together and she helped him to remember the things that had happened. Sadly, this brave sailor had been suffering from PTSD. (This was before anyone really understood what this can do to people).

    This was a very heart warming and heart wrenching book as the author tried to help her Dad to remember the things that he accomplished in the Navy, even to the point of sending for his service records, which told some things but not all. A book that tells the story of a father and daughter relationship that will live in their hearts for all time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Family Intrigue!

    This book is part memoir, part family story, part family secret story. When Karen receives a packet of the letters that her father wrote his parents during his time in the military. Karen grew up very rarely hearing stories about what her father did during the war so much of his life in that time period. Karen starts doing some of her own research as well as transcribing her father's letters. She also begins meeting her father every week to ask her some of the questions that come up while she's looking through the letters.

    This is a deeply moving story, made all the more moving by the fact that it's real. Through their talks, Karen and her father not only talk about her father's history but Karen begins to understand more about where her father is coming from. It was interesting to read about how Karen began doing her research on what her dad was actually doing during the war. At some points in the book, I really found myself wishing that maybe there would be a little more detail of Karen's dad's story.

    Bottom line: This is a great book for fans of World War II history and family stories!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Breaking the Code was an emotional journey

    Breaking the Code is a wonderful true story of a daughter's quest to transcribe WWII letters written by her father. What started out as a gift to her children, became a journey of learning, healing, self-discovery, bonding and understanding. I enjoyed this book immensely. It was told in first person by Karen, the daughter of Murray Fisher. She speaks in a no-nonsense way that keeps you turning the pages. The book contains Murray's letters, postcards, photos, and some official documents. For war and history buffs, this is a rare look into the daily life of a Navy solider during the war. I found the places, activities and Fisher's job(s) during the war to be very interesting. Karen Fisher-Alaniz offers us a rare glimpse into a very special, humble man and his struggle to deal with the memories. Breaking the Code was an emotional journey, and I found myself laughing and crying. I recommend this to all. This would make the perfect holiday gift for anyone on your list. I want to thank netGalley and Sourcebooks for this ARC, in exchange for my unbiased review.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2013

    Excellent true WWII story

    Fisher-Alaniz is handed a WWII mystery by her 80+ year old father, who fought in the war. Or did he? Why was he, suddenly, having dreams that appeared to be flashbacks/PTSD? Fisher-Alaniz sets out to transcribe her father's war letters home and, in the process, try to help her father come to grips with his war experiences.
    The story is less about his code-breaking and more about his PTSD and his daughter's need to help him.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2013

    It keeps drawing you further into the mystery of...

    I was baffled at the odd circumstances of a sailor with time on his hands and nothing-to-do in the middle of the world's most expansive war until the strands of his story began to weave an amazing tale.

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  • Posted December 11, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Highly Recommend

    I recieved a recommendation from JA Jance (my favorite author) and bought this book. I started reading it this morning and am deeply engrossed. The story flows beautifully and the father is becoming a very real person to me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews

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