Firstly we have Thompson's Lucky Star: The Story of a Stalag Survivor.
reviewed by McRenegade Cally Phillips
It’s stark. Thompson himself wrote little. And there’s no padding. What there is, is enough to make the reader think, to fill in the gaps – to wonder at the how’s and why’s of the life Thompson lived in camp between his entries – and to think about the very reason he wrote the short diary entries he did. This is miles away from what we are fed about the war, heroes and all. This is what the war was like. We can’t know. We weren’t there. But there’s enough from Thompson’s letters to allow us to fill in some gaps and when we do, it’s not a comfortable place to be. Which is as it should be. Being a POW was not like ‘The Great Escape.’ It was hard, brutal, brutalising and broke many of the men it didn’t kill. Thompson’s diary and his ‘lucky star’ keep him alive to tell the tale. But only just. It’s a great tribute to Brendan’s great uncle (I think that would be the right relationship) and Tony’s father that they have taken the plunge, done what research they can to give context, and presented this tribute to one of the many men who came back and didn’t talk about their war. Because, for me, this is how war should be shown – not as some glorious adventure or heroic endeavour- but as mean, cruel, dull and horrific. I suspect there will be many readers looking for the former who dismiss this as not good enough, which is simply an indictment on how poorly we understand the reality of war. I hope there are many readers who read the book expecting adventure and heroism, who learn, as I did, that it’s in the quiet desperation that we will find the truth of WW2, not in the action movies.
And other reviews from Amazon:
'I purchased this book having been quite impressed by other stories by Brendan Gisby.
It is basically a short documentary that expands upon a very basic & starkly written diary penned by a British prisoner of war in a German Stalag WWII POW camp.
It is written in a documentary style, which whilst in no way typical of Mr Gisby's more usually colourful hand, seems highly necessary due to the fact that Corporal Thompson revealed so little about himself personally within the diary from which the book is constructed.
The text therefore makes few assumptions in elaborating upon the character's diary entries, but does manage to expand greatly upon them via historical research and (towards the end) via reference to Mr Thompsons later post-war life.
It does give a slightly more 2-dimensional perspective upon the WWII POW experience than the norm, which I think is down to the neccesity of documenting things in a very matter of fact way occasioned by a limited insight into actual diarised events.
A product of an association between Mr Gisby & a Mr Thompson (possibly a relative of the books' hero), Gisby's usually insightful & vibrant character studies appear quite reasonably absent due to the importance of retaining a documentary style. I also suspect that Mr Gisby's sum knowledge of the hero as an individual was most likely gleaned from the co-author & diary alone. Having said all of that, I am however unsure as to the extent of his involvement comparitivelty to the (seemingly first-named) co-author, Mr Thompson. It could well be that Gisby is not the presiding author of this work.
It was however an enjoyable & insightful read and (I believe) was the best that it could have possibly been given the raw evidence upon which it was constructed.'
'This is a very touching story based on diary entries of Corporal George Thompson. It gives details of his personal responses to the awful conditions he had to bear. It also lets us see how patient in tribulation he and so many of comrades were. It was an eye-opener for me. I've seen films based on prison of war camps but these didn't show the full horror these poor men suffered. Thompson also records some of the even more appalling treatment the Russians and Italians suffered at the hands of the Germans. It's well worth a read of this novella. I highly recommend it.'
'This is a good read of one man's wartime experience as a prisoner of war interspersed by details of what was actually happening at the time in the war and relating it to POW camp and telling how it was inside and exactly what news managed to get through to the men.'
McRenegade Cally Phillips writes:
This is a very interesting ebook, both as a concept and in delivery. Digital publishing makes the possibility of publishing family history much more real. I'm sure the market could be flooded by weaker versions of this book. Many family stories might have no interest to those other than `family' but it's good to know that such stories can now be told and that people who want to write and read such stories don't have to expend a lot of money or worry about `the market' they can just get on an do them. While I think The Five Sons of Charlie Gisby is a forerunner to what may become a very overcrowded `genre' I think it will still hold up when there are many others to choose from. Why? Because the story is interesting and the way it's told equally so. Each son (and his family) is given his own space and the whole book is peppered through with primary source material which contextualises and places the men and women in their time. And the book is complete with photographs, which while small on my ereader, would I am sure enhance reading on a tablet or iPad. So there's a futureproofing of the ebook as well! A vision of what ebooks can and may offer in the future.
Of course it's frustrating that `whole' stories cannot be told. We get a snapshot of each person in the family, some with more detail than others, but this in and of itself is interesting. One feels privileged to have been let into a family's private lives, with no skeletons left in their closets. There is more depth than one might think possible for `ordinary' people and the initial research by Phil Gisby has yielded information that I feel is a true tribute to his forebears (even the `dodgy' stuff). I particularly loved the descriptions of the drunken wife, the coyness with which it was reported in its time was both entertaining and reminded one of the changes in reporting style over the years. How such a woman would fare facing today's media reportage gave me pause for thought. The whole family `saga' was built and knitted together by Brendan Gisby with his usual humour and panache. And there's an incredible diversity of life experience portrayed in this family `tree.' You can't read such a thing without thinking about your own family history and wondering how they would stack up if you did the research.
Other people on Amazon reviews have said:
'This is a family history story written with charm and wit. The research involved is very impressive, I have done a little family history myself and I cannot but be impressed by the depth of information Mr Gisby has managed to seek out. He had added a wealth of historical detail as well in the form of news reports etc. All of it add to the picture.
The real joy of this book is that his history could be the history of any one of us, this family were "People like us."'
'This book is the factual story of one man's family and although the author did not have alot of family facts to draw on, he still managed to write a book with insight into a time gone by. By drawing on researched social history, he has used this to draw analogies and reasonable assumptions, as to the conditions the family live in etc.
It was a particularly fascinating read for me, as so many of the places in the south of England mentioned, are familiar to me because members of my family have also lived in them - especially Margate and surrounding areas.
If you have an interest in social history, I would recommend taking the time to read this book.'
'This is the most enjoyable read. Brendan Gisby brings his family alive, no holds barred. You may wonder why reading about someone else's family would be at all interesting but Gisby makes a great case for the ordinary man (and woman). The characters in this book could be in anyone's family, the ordinary folk that inhabit every town and city in the country. There is a bit of added magic though that brings the Gisby family to life and had me totally engrossed in their stories. Whether you are interested in family history or not, this is a great read.'
So by now, I hope that you've seen something of the amazing depth and breadth of the writing of Mr McStoryteller, Brendan Gisby, and have your summer reading all lined up! You won't be disappointed.