Friday, May 31, 2024

Editorial Book Review: Eye Contact over Truk by Stephanie Woodman #HistoricalFiction #WWII #EditorialReview #TheCoffeePotBookClub

*Editorial Book Review*

Eye Contact over Truk

by Stephanie Woodman

A forgotten battle. A live-aboard dive vessel. Will exploring what lies under the coral tear these men apart?

America, 1985. Nick Mitchel is wracked by grief. Destroyed by his beloved wife’s death, the retiree is fighting to keep his flashbacks from disturbing long-buried truths. And a diving expedition in the Pacific Ocean he’d hoped would heal old wounds only reopens dark memories of the war…

Japan. Junichi Takahashi is brimming with indignation. After surviving the WWII firebombing of Tokyo as a child, he resents his dying father’s request to explore a sunken graveyard. And with the location now a tourist mecca for scuba divers, he’s furious that one of his nation’s most tragic losses has turned into an underwater playground.

As Nick struggles with nightmarish visions, his anger awakens when a saboteur starts tampering with his equipment. And as Junichi battles to make peace with his grim history, he confronts Nick in a dangerous collision of perspectives.

Can the two men salvage anything from the wreckage of a bitter conflict?

Eye Contact Over Truk is a heartrending work of historical fiction. If you like nuanced characters, emotional journeys, and surreal backdrops, then you’ll love Stephanie Woodman’s thought-provoking exploration of the past.

Buy Eye Contact Over Truk to seek redemption today!

Now one last, but equally important, item. Please remember that these wrecks were not sunk to entertain divers, nor with the intent of promoting marine growth as an artificial reef. As alluring, mysterious, and beautiful as the wrecks are, they are first and foremost tombs to those who died in the battle. Most of the human remains have been removed, but not all. To the families of the men who died here, visiting this site is the same as visiting a grave site…

In the aftermath of losing his wife, Nick Mitchel experiences the resurgence of old memories that he thought he had put behind him. Overwhelmed by despair and the absence of his wife, Nick retreats into isolation, wasting away within the confines of his home. However, Natalie, one of his closest friends, refuses to let him waste his life and is committed to helping him find his way back. They begin organising a diving trip to Truk, where Nick had participated, during WW2, in Operation Hailstorm, sinking Japanese ships, along with Natalie’s late brother. Hopefully, this will be a voyage towards saying goodbye to the past, confronting it, and moving ahead.

Despite his strong reluctance, Junichi Takahashi cannot refuse his father’s dying request to go on a trip to Truk. Why his father would want him to go and see the ship that went down with him onboard, the ship he barely survived the sinking of, was beyond him. Nevertheless, Junichi’s father yearned for a definitive separation between the past and present. Thus, Junichi felt compelled to revisit Natsu-Shima Island and explore the submerged wrecks as a way to honour his father and find a resolution regarding the war’s impact on his life.

Stephanie Woodman’s novel Eye Contact Over Truk is a deeply emotional exploration of loss and acceptance, as well as learning to live with grief.

Everyone remembers the famous battles of WW2, but unfortunately, others of equal importance are slowly being lost to history. Still, those who participated in those battles are haunted by invisible scars and indelible memories. Many battles were treated as just numbers - counting planes, bombs, and casualties. Faceless individuals, all with their own story to tell, wiped away, forgotten. The haunting feeling of knowing the impact of your actions, even if you were following orders, in such a battle and the lives you have cut short is undeniable. Throughout the novel, Nick faces significant struggles as he delves into various underwater wrecks, grappling with the immense devastation his war involvement caused while also attempting to absolve himself of blame.

Some characters in the novel are untouched by the war and remain oblivious to the extent of the devastation and life-altering effects. This is perfectly exemplified by Nick’s children. While Nick struggles to repress his memories and escape the past, his children live in blissful ignorance of his wartime experiences. The book illustrates numerous examples of how the war impacted everyone’s lives. Nick fought in it. Junichi, although young, suffered immense trauma from the fire bombings as he desperately ran away from the blistering heat, fully aware that any pause could be fatal. The war had a profound impact on Natalie’s life when her brother died in the line of duty. Her relationship with those around her, such as her parents, shifted. The effects of war are profound, and they cannot be erased or healed simply by the passage of time. 

The diving element in this book was fascinating, a unique approach to recounting history by revealing the aftermath instead of the actual events. Through Nick’s flashbacks, the reader gets a glimpse of what it was like to fight in this war. Nevertheless, Nick’s emotional reaction to seeing the wrecks years later has a significantly more intense effect on the reader. The reader learns that the war’s impact lingered long after the fighting ceased. The story of the wrecked ships, transforming into an underwater cemetery for countless individuals, is truly heart-wrenching. Even though coral and new life have begun to thrive, the sunken ships still serve as haunting reminders of the lives lost in a war. However, as Nick encounters more and more life-threatening situations caused by his malfunctioning diving gear, doubts and suspicions begin to surface. Junichi’s aversion towards Nick intensified upon learning about his involvement as a pilot during Operation Hailstone, attributing him to the numerous casualties. Yet, would Junichi’s loathing for Nick drive him to deliberately endanger his life?

Despite a slow beginning, the pace of the novel rapidly intensifies, capturing your attention and making it impossible to put down. The characters are so meticulously developed that their emotions resonate deeply with the reader. Although the characters are fiction, the historical events in this novel are authentic. Operation Hailstorm was a real battle, and many people died in the attacks. Through her fictional characters, Ms Woodman sheds light on a little-known battle, portraying the trauma, loss, grief, and evoking empathy in readers. The reader experiences the characters’ emotions, as this book emphasises the enduring psychological impact of war on its survivors. Many historical sites are tourist attractions now, but they were once inhabited by living, breathing people, whose circumstances ended with their deaths. It’s one thing to remember history, but to live through it and survive when so many others didn’t is a whole other story.

Eye Contact Over Truk by Stephanie Woodman is a novel that will touch your heart and leave a lasting impression. The book evokes a strong desire from the reader to embrace these characters and erase their painful memories. But alas, such a thing is not possible. Many individuals, like Nick and Junichi, left the war without physical injuries but were mentally scarred for the rest of their lives. It not only destroyed the lives of those who died but also those of the ones who survived. Stephanie Woodman’s novel explores the lasting impact of trauma on WWII veterans, who expected to be hailed as heroes but instead found themselves bound to the memories of war and their fallen comrades. 

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Ellie Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club

Universal Buy Link

Stephanie Woodman

Stephanie Woodman is an avid collector of experiences and a perpetual student of life. Despite her analytical background with a long engineering career and a short tenure as a high school math teacher, Stephanie has a powerful creative side which has manifested itself in her debut novel, Eye Contact Over Truk.

The inspiration for Stephanie's literary endeavors springs from a diverse array of influences. From the adventurous exploits of Clive Cussler's underwater thrillers, the poignant writing of Robert James Waller, to the captivating biographies of Aline, Countess of Romanones, Stephanie finds influence in stories that transport her to new places, times, and cultures. She also draws from her own life experiences, infusing her writing with authenticity and emotional depth.

The idea for Eye Contact Over Truk came to her in 1996 during a scuba trip to Truk Lagoon. She put the project on pause during her career and finished it in earnest after her retirement in 2021. With the additional two decades of life experience, her writing transformed to explore themes of perseverance, forgiveness, grief, loss, life, love, and adventure. This evolution of her story is captured best by Mark Twain's timeless adage that "history often rhymes," blending youthful vigor with seasoned introspection.

Outside the realm of literature, Stephanie is an avid pickleball player and golfer, finding joy in friendly competition. She loves scuba diving, sailing, traveling the world to explore new cultures and meet new people, and spending time with her son, who is now starting his own adventure in college. Stephanie is an active member in her community, volunteering her time to help students in robotics programs and is also known for her past role as a clown, bringing laughter and joy to those in need.

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  1. I have added Eye Contact over Truk to my to-read list, it sounds amazing.

    1. Wonderful, thank you. I hope you'll enjoy it.