I received an ARC from one of the authors in exchange for an honest review.
Hold Strong is the first published novel of debut authors Jeff Langholz and Chris Crabtree.
This book is a fictionalized account of historical events that were exhaustively researched by the authors. And by exhaustively I mean: in the Notes section they have listed their references by chapter, page, and down to the SENTENCE they were used in. Anytime you have a question about historical accuracy, rest assured there will eventually be an answer.
Hold Strong is the story of the hellish set of tragedies and mass torture suffered by U.S. POWs aboard the Arisan Maru, a WWII Japanese hell ship. This eventually became the site of the “worst naval disaster in U.S. history”, but the authors take the full picture into account and also consider it THE deadliest accident/tragedy of ALL U.S. military history.
For those reasons, Hold Strong is not an easy book to read. It is downright GRISLY. Few books I’ve read have delivered such psychologically harrowing scenes, displaying every awful violation that can possibly be inflicted upon the human body, including vampirism. It is not for the faint of heart, or something you want to read before bedtime. It is a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life.
Thankfully, most of that happens during Part I and the first half of Part II. (And to be honest I wasn’t sure if I could handle it and only pushed through because I promised to write this review.)
But I don’t regret it, especially after that literally jaw-dropping ending! (I audibly gasped!) Few times during the hundreds of books I’ve read have I been so surprised by an ending. It is the main reason why I knocked this up from 4 stars to 5.
The authors took the history of the Arisan Maru and inserted fiction into it to fill in the blanks where not only accounts don’t exist, but also where a more dramatic and profound story could be developed.
Sam, the main character, is used a vessel to represent the spiritual journey of surviving such an ordeal, experiencing and representing every facet of the human condition. It is because of Sam, and his dear friend Father Thomas Scecina, that you want to read this book.
Also if you are teaching a literature course, there is so much here to unpack and discuss. It would also work really well in a book club setting. (The book includes discussion questions at the end.)
I would recommend this to: people who are into grisly endurance stories a la The Road by Cormac McCarthy, people who have tons of WWII books and always casually have a WWII documentary playing in the background in their living room, and Catholic or Christian adherents who would like to read a shining example of a truly good Christian.*
*p.s. If the mention of religion repels you, don’t let that dissuade you from reading this book. There’s no avoiding it since one of the main characters IS a priest, after all; but religion here is presented more in a spiritual sense that all humans can relate to, rather than as indoctrination. Also, if you know where to look, whiffs of Eastern philosophies are also clearly present in the book.
Pick up a copy on Amazon!