Among the bric-a-brac left by author Phil Gambone's father, a soldier in the Fifth Armored Victory Division that landed in Normandy in July 1944, were a handful of souvenir maps of the route the soldiers took when they fought themselves across occupied Europe, from Utah Beach to Berlin. But when they actually did the fighting and dying, they didn't know where they were. It was a closely held secret until they received the souvenir maps when the war was over in May 1945. War secrets ended, but silence about the war took its place. The father was unable to speak of what he experienced during that war; the son acquired silences of his own, as a gay man, and a student at Harvard during the 1960s who was opposed to the Vietnam War. Unfolding the story embedded in his father's war mementos and the unfinished business of who father and son were as men became the subject of Gambone's latest book-in-progress, As Far As I Can Tell: Retracing my Father's WWII Route Across Europe. As the author closing out the 2012-2013 South End Writes series in June, Gambone described his father as a man of few words, even before the war. He was too shy to ask the vivacious young woman who became Gambone's mother to marry him: she had to ask (and he immediately accepted). While other GIs sent copious mail home, Gambone's dad left a paltry record of six greeting cards. Gambone since discovered that the reluctance to talk about the war is universal among veterans, even those who fought the so-called good war that brought victory. "There seemed to be no way to connect the carnage they had seen with the civil life they lived afterward," Gambone told the spell-bound audience at the South End Library in June. "Your father said the war was horrible," his mother told him. But in retracing the route of the Fifth Armored in Europe during several trips in the last few years, Gambone said his father revealed himself as a man of courage and stamina, and the author began to berate himself for the lack of attention he had paid paid to his dad.
They would meet regularly at The Wursthaus in Cambridge for lunch, but Gambone said he felt they didn't have a lot in common. "The lunches were uncomfortable, stiff," he said. "I wish now we'd talked more but then our conversations were perfunctory." The quest to understand his father became one about finding himself and discovering his own values. He reminded himself that despite the vast destruction that played out in Europe during the Second World War, the same continent was also known for what it had built in previous centuries: transportation networks, exquisite buildings, museums, cathedrals, bridges. Following in his father's steps, he also had to acknowledge what it was that he himself valued, what he one day might want to fight for, thereby, as he put it, " unlocking the silence of each of the men we came to be."
The next SOUTH END WRITES series will resume Tuesday, September 10, with a reading by Haitian-American poet Danielle Legros Georges. The essayist and translator is the author of a book of poems, Maroon (Curbstone Press, 2001). Her work has appeared
in numerous literary journals and anthologies, and been featured on National Public Radio, The Bill Moyers Journal (PBS), and The Voice of America programs. Her awards for writing include MacDowell Colony and LEF fellowships, and the PEN New England Discovery Award. She is a visiting faculty member of the William Joiner Center, University of Massachusetts Boston, and leads the Greater Brockton Society for Poetry and the Arts Poetry Workshop.
Tuesday, October 1: George Cuddy, who wrote the e-book Where Hash Rules, about Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe on Columbus Avenue, famous for many reasons, most recently the visit by President Barack Obama who ordered a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, mustard and fries to go, while in town for a fundraiser.
Tuesday, October 22: bestselling thriller writer Joe Finder, author of among other books Paranoia, Company Men, Killer Instinct and Power Play. The movie version of Paranoia is scheduled for release in a theater near you in August. It is directed by Robert Luketic and stars Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Harrison Ford, Lucas Till, Amber Heard, Embeth Davidtz, Julian McMahon, Josh Holloway and Richard Dreyfuss.
Wednesday, November 13: Megan Marshall, author of the award-winning The Peabody Sisters, will read from her most recent biography, the widely praised Margaret Fuller: a New American Life. Those of you who attended the dynamic SEWrites reading by April Bernard (Miss Fuller) in February may recall her admiring comments about the upcoming Fuller biography by Marshall.
Tuesday, December 3: J. Courtney Sullivan, bestselling author and former New York Times writer whose novels include Commencement, Maine -- winner of the Best Book of the Year by Time magazine-- and, most recently, The Engagegements.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014: South Ender Christopher Castellani, whose recent novel All This Talk of Love got a great review in the New York Times Book Review earlier this year. Previous work includes A Kiss from Maddalena, winner of the 2004 Massachusetts Book Award, and The Saint of Lost Things, a BookkSense Notable Award. Castellani is the artistic director of Boston's creative-writing center Grub Street.
Tuesday, February 25: novelist, short-story writer, editor and teacher of creative writing, Michael Lowenthal will read from his most recent The Paternity Test, which describes the voyage of a gay couple trying to save a marriage by having a baby. His previous work includes Charity Girl and The Same Embrace. During Lowenthal's valedictorian speech at Dartmouth College in 1990, he revealed he was gay, prompting The Dartmouth Review to editorialize that he had 'ruined the ceremony.' The New York Times reported he received a standing ovation, however, so all was not lost.