Former U.S. congressman and novelist Mrazek (And the Sparrow Fell) delivers a crisp chronicle of Florence Finch’s contributions to the Philippine resistance movement during WWII. Born to an American serviceman and a Filipina woman, Finch (1915–2016) started dating U.S. naval intelligence officer Charles “Bing” Smith in late 1940 and secured a job as administrative secretary to Maj. Carl Engelhart, deputy head of U.S. Army Intelligence for the Philippines. In December 1941, Japanese armed forces invaded. Smith died in a dive bomb attack; Engelhart became a prisoner of war. Finch, meanwhile, found work with a Japanese-controlled fuel company and joined an underground network smuggling supplies to Allied prisoners. In 1944, she was arrested and sentenced to three years of hard labor. In early February 1945, American soldiers liberated her prison. Mrazek chronicles Englehart’s treatment in various POW camps to highlight the importance of smuggling efforts, and interweaves a broad overview of the war in the Philippines with an action-packed recap of Finch’s exploits, providing drama but little emotional insight. WWII buffs will relish this inside look at life under Japanese occupation; general readers will wish they got to know the heroine of the title better. (June)
In his third work of nonfiction on World War II, Mrazek (A Dawn like Thunder) focuses on the life of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Florence Finch (1915–2016). Born in the Philippines to an American father and a Filipina mother, Florence was sent to school in Manila and never returned to her family's plantation. She was eventually hired to work for the Office of Army Intelligence and married her first husband, a navy chief petty officer. They were still newlyweds at the outbreak of the war, and he was killed in action in 1942. For two years, she hid her American citizenship and worked at the Philippine Liquid Fuel Distributing Union, aiding the resistance movement. In 1944, she was arrested, raped, and tortured until she was rescued a year later by American troops. Mrazek expertly tells how she later joined the U.S. Coast Guard in order to continue aiding in the war effort, but the war ended before she could be deployed. Final chapters follow her life after the war, with her second husband and two children. VERDICT Mrazek's work showcases a wealth of primary-source material, and skillfully invites readers into Florence's remarkable life. An engaging read for all interested in women's or 20th-century history.—Crystal Goldman, Univ. of California, San Diego Lib.
A World War II heroine comes to light decades after the war.
Mrazek, a five-term congressman and award-winning novelist, illuminates a lesser-known and appalling area of the war: life in the Philippines after the 1941 Japanese conquest. Born of an American father and Filipino mother, Florence Finch (1915-2016) attended an American-run school in Manila. As a young woman, her secretarial skills earned her jobs at the Army-Navy YMCA and then as administrative assistant in the U.S. Army Department of Intelligence. She married an American sailor in 1941. With the Japanese conquest in December 1941, her job vanished, and her husband died in battle a few months later. Concealing her American connections, she obtained a job with the Japanese-run Philippine Liquid Fuel Distribution Union, which controlled all energy resources for the island. It is historically accurate to describe Japan’s behavior in the occupied Philippines as loathsome, and Mrazek offers numerous accounts of the brutality. Civilians received rough treatment, and the awful conditions in prison and internment camps were no secret. Inmates lived in squalor and on a starvation diet. “There was never enough food for everyone,” writes the author. Soon after beginning work, Florence began forging ration coupons to obtain fuel, which was then sold on the black market to buy supplies for the prisoners and the resistance. Arrested in October 1944, she endured terrible torture, rape, and starvation until American forces arrived in February 1945, when she was 78 pounds and near death. After her recovery, she moved to the U.S. and married. The remainder of her life was less traumatic, and she died at the age of 101 with many honors, including the Medal of Freedom. Apparently a member of the history-is-boring school, Mrazek tells his story in a novelistic style with invented dialogue and access to everyone’s thoughts. Despite the fairly lowbrow style, he capably describes significant, dramatic events.
The richly detailed account of a courageous woman’s life. (2 maps)
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"A riveting story of courage and sacrifice....Mrazek's book is a treasure, an eminently readable tribute to the wartime heroism of one brave woman."—The New York Times Book Review
"Robert J. Mrazek unfolds [Florence's] audacious plan to help prisoners and underground freedom fighters....The writing is brisk and energetic; the saga unfolds with enormous suspense."—The Wall Street Journal
"A monumental biography....Details of Finch's life are blended deftly with the chronology of the Philippines and the world at large....What is special about this biography is the fashion in which certain interesting and controversial topics come into view... historians have long debated whether or not America was really prepared for World War II....Robert Mrazek is to be praised for his serious research and superior writing style, both of which make this chronicle of Florence's real-life adventures an absorbing saga. Her receipt of the Medal of Freedom spotlighted her brave, fearless war effort, just as The Indomitable Florence Finch brings her life and service to our attention."—Washington Independent Review of Books
"This soul-stirring story of a true heroine of World War II brought tears to my eyes."—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom
"'Indomitable' is an understatement. Florence's breathtaking story causes us to remember that one person, can indeed, change the lives of many."—Judith L. Pearson, award-winning author of Belly of the Beast and Wolves at the Door
"A wonderfully graphic and moving account of the selfless and courageous role played during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines by Florence Finch, one of the great unrecognized heroines of World War Two."—Saul David, author of Crucible of Hell: The Heroism and Tragedy of Okinawa, 1945 and The Force: The Legendary Special Ops Unit and WWII's Mission Impossible
"The searing tragedy and epic heroism of Florence Finch... is an enthralling and inspiring narrative.... A stellar hero of the Philippine resistance who risked all to save the lives of many others."—Richard B. Frank, author of MacArthur and winner of the Truman Book Award
"An incredibly moving and powerful story. In these absorbing pages, the Filipino experience in World War II comes to life.... Mrazek shows us the triumph of the human spirit over the worst of adversity. Florence Finch is a hero for the ages."—John C. McManus, PhD, Curators' Distinguished Professor, Missouri S&T, author of Fire and Fortitude: The U.S. Army in the Pacific War
"Thanks to Robert Mrazek's rich and fast-paced narrative, we can add Florence Finch's name to the honor roll of World War II heroes such as Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler who risked their lives to save others from certain death. Her thrilling story, expertly told by Mrazek, proves that there are still stories of Second World War heroism that remain untold."—Thurston Clarke, author of Pearl Harbor Ghosts and the New York Times bestselling The Last Campaign
"Robert Mrazek...tells inspiring stories of extraordinary heroism with verve and heart. The story of the amazing war widow, Florence Finch, who risked her life to save American POWs in the Pacific, is by far his finest yet. A beautiful hymn to a forgotten heroine."—Alex Kershaw, bestselling author of The First Wave and Avenue of Spies
"The story of Florence Finch may not be well-known among WWII history buffs, but it should be, especially after reading Mrazek's meticulous retelling of her life's story...Mrazek... does not leave any important detail out of the book. This biography is thorough, engaging and at times heart-breaking. The narrative seems like it's pulled from a war movie or a spy thriller....The Indomitable Florence Finch restores this powerful woman's story into the public consciousness and gives her life its proper due."—John Soltes, Hollywood Soapbox
"Mrazek's book provides readers with a firsthand account of the importance of alliances....Readers also get a strong sense of the courage and fortitude demonstrated by both U.S. soldiers and Filipino civilians....Mrazek documents the selfless courage of a civilian woman (and eventual Coast Guard female reservist) who served so others might live."—Commander Brooke Millard, U.S. Coast Guard, Proceedings magazine
"An American hero-long forgotten-finally gets her due in this riveting narrative. You will absolutely love Florence Finch: her grit, her compassion, her fight. This isn't just history; she is a woman for our times."
—Keith O'Brien, the New York Times bestselling author of Fly Girls
“Riveting…Florence’s astonishing journey is expertly told….This aptly titled book is an un-put-downable story of bravery in a world turned upside down by war….Mrazek, an engaging writer whose work is based on a foundation of extensive research, is at his best in describing Florence’s transformation from being nearly overwhelmed by her circumstances to becoming a savior for so many POWs.”—The Portland Press-Herald
"Mrazek's writing is intelligent...a beautiful story...a book written from the heart."—LitHub
"Mrazek expertly...showcases a wealth of primary-source material, and skillfully invites readers into Florence's remarkable life. An engaging read for all interested in women's or 20th-century history."
—Library Journal (starred review)
"The richly detailed account of a courageous woman's life."—Kirkus Reviews
"A crisp chronicle....WWII buffs will relish this inside look at life under Japanese occupation."—Publishers Weekly
"Acclaimed novelist and historian Mrazek has crafted a compelling narrative which also provides rich coverage of the overall war in the Philippines. A perfect match of author and subject."—Booklist
"[A] MUST READ for all!... incredibly hard to put down."
—The Reading Frenzy
“Mrazek’s narrative vignettes [are] interesting and informative….If one looks at the whole of [Florence’s] life of early suffering and stigma, quiet service and loyalty and a stunning leap in adverse circumstances to dangerous and life-threatening action for others, it stands to reason that she was what she was for the life she had lived.”—The Manila Times