Monday, June 09, 2014

Book Review: LOUCH

LOUCH is a biography about Louis "Louch" Baczewski, a simple man of Polish descent from a small town in southern Illinois who would grow up and fight in WWII as a combat tank driver. Louch was a part of the 33rd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division, First Army. He was one of only 18 men out of 152 in his regiment to survive the war without injury and was the only combat tank driver in his Company to make it through the entire war, from his arrival on Omaha Beach a few weeks after D-Day to V-E Day almost a year later without injury. He fought in some of the fiercest European battles that Americans were a part of, including the Battle of the Bulge. Louch's unit was responsible for the destruction of more German tanks, captured soldiers, and enemy losses than any other armored combat command in the war. After the war, Louch returned home to Pocahontas, Illinois and (despite some trouble with crocked union bosses) attempted to live a normal life.

LOUCH switches back and forth between chapters about Louch's life growing up, his experiences in WWII, and his life after the war with chapters about life and fishing along Shoal Creek. In these non-sequential chapters that usually revolve around fishing, the author discusses his experiences and memories fishing with his grandfather and family and the lessons he learned through these adventures.

LOUCH is told in a straight-forward manner that any reader can understand. The chapters about WWII are probably the most interesting for students of history, but the chapters about the life lessons learned and fishing are just as interesting, but in a different way.

Although, LOUCH is an interesting, informative, engaging, and entertaining book, it does have a couple of minor flaws. There are instances where the book unnecessarily repeats itself: an idea or sentence is expressed and is then repeated later on in a chapter and sometimes shows up again. I was focused on reading the book and learning about Louch's life, but there were times I noticed the repetition because it distracted me from reading.

The other flaw with LOUCH is the way in which the story is told. For the most part, the book is a story about Louch's life told in a sequential order that are broken up by chapters about fishing, life along Shoal Creek, or just some memories about the author's grandfather. Although I enjoyed these chapters, I wish they had been written into the story a different way, particularly the chapters that break up Louch's war narrative. Instead of augmenting the narrative of Louch's life, some of these chapters tend to distract the reader from the tale being weaved.

Despite the flaws, I enjoyed reading LOUCH. I grew up and was raised in a different small town about 14 miles away from Louch's hometown. I am familiar with Shoal Creek and as a boy spent time swimming in its waters and climbing along its banks. There is a chapter in LOUCH entitled "The Flowing Dao of Shoal Creek" and the title of the chapter aptly describes life for anyone who grew up near Shoal Creek. There is a tao (or dao) of living that one discovers when raised near Shoal Creek; it is a way of looking at life and knowledge of living that is not easily described. This tao is evident in LOUCH and stirred old memories from my youth. Also, in reading about the author's relationship with his grandfather and how he came to write LOUCH, I was reminded of my own relationships with my grandpa and great uncles and the history I uncovered with one of my great uncles for an Illinois History Fair project in the 8th grade. It's been quite some time since I reflected upon those stories, but LOUCH reminded me of them and I am thankful for that.

Overall, LOUCH is the story of a seemingly simple man from a small town in southern Illinois. It has a few flaws, but is an interesting, informative, and engaging story nonetheless. It will appeal most to those who have an interest in WWII history, fishing, or southern Illinois, but it has something to offer anyone with a spirit open to the tao of Shoal Creek.

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