Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: Code Talker

What I enjoyed most about Chester Nez’ and Judith Avila’s “Code Talker” is how much it reminds me of the old men I interviewed when I worked for the newspapers ere these many years ago: The little bits of humor, the self-effacement (try getting that from any generation subsequent to the Greatest Generation), and the pragmatism.

The first, last. Chester Nez, a Navajo, saw much discrimination in his lifetime. Yet he served his country with pride, shoving past the racists to win a respected place in society. I’m not excusing the racism, but Nez and his fellow Code Talkers don’t seem to have let it stop them. It was part of their lives, and they dealt with it. Yes, it helped they were regarded as vital; that it where we seem to be failing today – those we deride don’t seem important to us. And we all deride somebody or something or we wouldn’t be human beings.

That brings us to the self-effacement. I can’t count how many times Nez says in this book that he doesn’t feel like a hero, despite the recognition. He was doing his duty, he was doing his job. Maybe we ought to look at that kind of attitude today: We’re not going to be heroes – even those among us who are – if we’re just doing our jobs. And heroism doesn’t equate with today’s drive for money and fame. That’s ludicrous. Heroes do their jobs because the jobs need to be done, not because they’re going to get rich or recognized for their work.

And the humor: Little things, no big guffaws. Because of the self-effacement. Because of being grounded in duty and honor.

I appreciate the amount of work that went into this book. It’s good history, but also reads as well as any novel I’ve read. Surely most of the credit there must go to Avila, who obviously spent a lot of time interviewing Nez and giving him advice on how to tell his story. That she took second billing on the authorship says something about her as well – she knew enough to step aside and advise Nez on how to tell his story, rather than taking it on herself to do the telling. That’s sincerity befitting the subject.

And, for the curious, I have no desire to see the film “Windtalkers.” Too Nicholas Cage. Why tell the story form the point of view of one of the Code Talkers’ bodyguards? Really? Tell it from the POV of Whitey? Not necessary. It’s not Whitey’s story, folks.

My recommendation: Read the book. Skip the film.

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