3 out of 4 stars
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Many stories born from the harrowing time of World War II loom large in our collective consciousness, such as the horrific bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. These collective memories must be preserved and the heroes and heroines remembered, but the events which received the most press tend to eclipse many less famous stories from the same era. This is a shame for subsequent generations, who are often oblivious to these lesser-known tragedies and triumphs of the human spirit and cannot benefit from that which remains largely untold. Lesser-known does not mean less important, a fact which author Eleanor Nunis has learned firsthand, as the toddler-turned-POW in Unsung Heroes, Ellen, is none other than herself.“There’s a tear in my eye, Daddy / And a pain in my heart there too / For I’m longing to see you, Daddy / And Mother’s been waiting for you.”
In her brief book, Nunis tells the story of her family, a tight-knit group of mixed Eurasian heritage who were enjoying a comfortable, happy life together in Muar, Malaysia (referred to throughout the book as “Malaya”), until the Japanese began marching toward them in 1941. Eleanor’s father, Justin Monteiro, dutifully joined the British forces, which ultimately resulted in Eleanor’s mother and grandmother, Ivy and Edna, relying almost exclusively on each other through their effort to flee Singapore, the capture of the Mata Hari, the ship they thought would deliver them to safety, and a grueling period of several years surviving as POWs. The two women staunchly refused to buckle under abuse, unspeakable living conditions, poor nutrition, illness, injury, and the pain of not knowing if they would ever meet the men they loved again, all while seeing to the needs of two small children, Ellen and Jean.
Through every hardship, Nunis’s family legacy of faith in God shines through, with Ivy and Edna praying every night with the children, telling them stories of their father, and singing hymns together. I could almost hear Ivy, exhausted from hard work and harsh conditions, lying on the ground with her children (there were no proper beds), little voices mingling with hers in choruses of:
Unsung Heroes is short but eventful, with story after story of bravery, selflessness, ingenuity, and strength through hardship that I find difficult to imagine in my comfortable life. While most of its pages are devoted to Ivy’s experiences, with the benefit of hindsight and research, the book also covers the journeys of Ivy’s father, husband, and brothers, as well as those of some extended family members. Interspersed throughout are family photos, original poetry, and relevant maps, which I found made the people described feel even more real and helped clarify my understanding of a geographical area which was unfamiliar to me.“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong; they are weak, but he is strong.”
The relevance of the earlier struggles these women endured in their youths really resonated with me. Ivy had issues with her hip for years, requiring many surgeries and enduring much pain. Edna had a rather cold, strict upbringing in a convent and, later in life, suffered a heart condition. The way Ivy and Edna were unknowingly prepared through these experiences for their lives in a POW camp amazed me, as did the entire family’s emphasis on helping others, even when it would seem best to look out for oneself.
While I believe Nunis’s work and books like it are of immeasurable importance, as a reviewer, I must admit that Unsung Heroes needs the perusal of a professional editor. There are many errors and issues, ranging from missing and misplaced commas and hyphens; inconsistent capitalization, spacing, and punctuation; occasionally missing words; and so on. There were also instances of awkward phraseology, such as “this might be the last time she would see him again.” Keeping the family relationships organized in my mind was difficult. I had to read the first half of the book a second time in order to clarify who was what to whom. The formatting needs attention as well, as the arrangement of the photos and accompanying captions often made it difficult to examine the pictures closely or read the captions on my Kindle without having to “turn the page.”
Ultimately, I struggled with my rating. While this book is not perfect and many portions felt like little more than lists of facts, other portions practically cried out to me of the light and hope that exists in all of us. I would have given this book a rating of 2.5, but as partial scores are not allowed, I will give Unsung Heroes, by Eleanor Nunis, a score of 3 out of 4 stars. Stories such as this one are too important to tell for me to quibble over details in their presentation. I am sincerely grateful that Nunis saw fit to share her family’s story with the world, and I hope it encourages more survivors to open up about their struggles, for, as was beautifully illustrated by Ivy and Edna, pain shared is pain lessened.
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