Summary and book reviews of The Special Prisoner by Jim Lehrer

The Special Prisoner

By Jim Lehrer

The Special Prisoner
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  • Hardcover: May 2000,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: May 2001,
    240 pages.

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Book Summary

Following the enormous success of his two bestselling previous novels, White Widow and Purple Dots, Jim Lehrer takes on a new and controversial subject in this ambitious story about an American soldier who, many years after the fact, is forced to relive his harrowing experience in the Second World War.

The Special Prisoner takes its title from the designation the Japanese government gave U.S. airmen held prisoner during World War II -- an indication of the severity with which these foreign devils responsible for bombing Japanese cities were to be treated. John Quincy Watson was a skilled young pilot flying B-29s over Japan when he was shot down and taken prisoner in 1945. Fifty years later, now a prominent religious figure nearing retirement, Bishop Watson believes he has long since overcome the excruciating memories of his months as a POW. But a chance sighting of the now equally elderly Japanese officer who repeatedly tortured him instantly transports the Bishop back to that unendurable time, and he finds himself overwhelmed by an uncontrollable desire for vengeance. The result for Watson is both a vivid return to the horrors of his past and the triggering of a new series of events that are also horrific - and tragic.

Engaging and emotionally poignant, The Special Prisoner delves into the complicated issue of war guilt and forgiveness, starkly portrayed in the characters of an officer from a country that refuses to admit any wrongdoing and a clergyman who is committed to a belief that to forgive is divine. This is new and controversial territory for Lehrer, and he treats it with passion and respect, while writing in the highly readable, engaging style that is his trademark. This fascinating story of what's fair in war - and what's fair afterward - is a dramatic new novel from the veteran Washington author and newscaster.

Excerpt
The Special Prisoner

Bishop John Quincy Watson, a man of God and grace, was yanked back into his ordeal of hate and horror by a pair of eyes.

They flashed at him from out of the crowd in a concourse at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport-DFW as it was known by those who knew airports. He stopped with a jolt and turned around. He fixed his sights on the backs of people walking past.

None of the backs looked familiar.

He walked toward Gate 32A, where he was to board a flight to Washington's National Airport.

The bishop hadn't seen the face, only the eyes.

Whose were they?

Then he knew. It came to him cleanly, clearly, and absolutely. The eyes were those of a man he knew fifty years ago as "the Hyena." He knew it with a crushing certainty that was as unshakable as John Quincy Watson's faith in the Almighty.

For reasons of exercise and pride, the bishop seldom used the motorized carts provided at airports for the old and lame, choosing instead to make his way ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Stephen E. Ambrose
This account of an American prisoner of war in Japanese hands rings with truth. Lehrer, himself a Marine, has captured the reality of what it was like. The brutality, the sadism, the horror, and, above all else, the triumph of will that got the prisoners through the experience are all here. Lehrer's book is honest, factual, and a tribute to the men who endured and prevailed over the worst existence imaginable.

Author Blurb Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking
Riveting...I couldn't put this book down! The Special Prisoner delves into the full complexity of human evil and revenge.

Library Journal

Gripping...a harrowing novel of redemption and revenge.

Reader Reviews
Curtis

This book had a chilling ring of truth....best book i have read in years....Currently reading "No Certain Rest".......this guy knows what he is doing

Christina

I really enjoyed the book. The text really drew me into the story and the historical fiction storyline was gripping! I just wish it was longer so I could feel his pain and his exhaustion from being at Sengi 4. Overall good book!

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