Navy Lieutenant Alvarez, a pilot, was shot down over North Vietnam in 1964 and held prisoner until 1973. In this engrossing account of the experience written with freelancer Pitch, he emerges as a duty-bound officer who held fast to his religious faith and ``the values enshrined in the Constitution.'' The book is a top-drawer POW memoir, but what sets it apart is its unblinking concurrent narration of the Alvarez family's ordeal. His sister became an antiwar activist, and Alvarez's discovery of this had a demoralizing effect. A more severe psychological crisis revolved around the coldness of his wife's letters, a situation that reached its climax when she divorced him for another man. Alvarez's anguished response to the news amid dreadful physical conditions, and the manifest kindness of his comrades in captivity, is movingly told. In an upbeat conclusion, the prisoner's release is joyously described. Military Book Club main selection. (Nov.)
Alvarez is well known to students of the Vietnam War as the first pilot taken prisoner in North Vietnam and the longest held. The story of his imprisonment, told in the first person, is intercut with third-person descriptions of the lives of relatives at home trying to endure the uncertainty of his fate at first, and later the long wait before the prisoner release in February 1973. During that time his wife had left him, relatives had died, and the American public had fought the war over the morality of the war. In his cell Alvarez endured starvation and isolation, and after more prisoners arrived, sadistic treatment meant to extract confessions and break the prisoners' wills. Told in a controlled and quiet tone, this story grips the reader in a way no sensational telling could. Long awaited, and recommended. Military Book Club selection.-- Mel Lane, Sacramento, Cal.
YA-- Interspersed in this basically straightforward personal account of eight and one half years in North Viet Nam prison camps are omniscient accounts of Alvarez' family's history and their reaction to his internment and release, his life prior to Viet Nam, and President Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin decision. Alvarez' adjustment to prison reality, his commitment to God and country, his search for proper behavior in the face of torture, his joy when he was able to share confinement with other American prisoners of war, and his gradual acceptance of long captivity give evidence to his growth as man and patriot. His detailed vignettes of the horrors of prison life, mitigated with the all but unanimous solidarity of the prisoners, and spiced with infrequent occasions of joy, provide readers with an opportunity for understanding what his experience must have been like. An appropriate choice for leisure reading, biography, and Viet Nam assignments. --Barbara R. Hawkins, West Potomac High, Alexandria, VA