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Book Review: The Coward by Kyle R. Bullock (3/5). Walking the line of cowardice and bravery.

5 Aug

My final ARC is complete! I’m really excited to have no more on my shelf only because it makes me feel pressured to read quickly and I don’t enjoy it as much when I feel that pressure. I had actually cut myself off to ARCs, but when Kyle sent me a private Facebook message, asking if I could read his book, I buckled. I really appreciated the targeted and personal message he sent me.

Cover image via

Cover image via

The Coward by Kyle R. Bullock

Lieutenant John Burke joined the Army on the dawn of World War II. He didn’t have much holding him back and was willing to quickly leave his alcoholic mother and degrading job to train as an Air Force pilot in the Pacific. When his fellow soldiers start dying, something is shaken inside Burke. When it’s his plane that goes down over Japan, he starts to lose direction. After being captured by the Japanese and held for almost a year as a POW, Burke and two other prisoners escape and run to the coast. Burke meets a young boy and his mother who yank at his heartstrings and Burke sees that these people, the enemy, are still people. Burke, faced with the possibility of rescue on the water, decides to stay in Japan. He’s more afraid of what’s waiting for him back in the US than what could happen to him behind enemy lines. He saves the boy, Kioshi, and his mother during a bomb raid but is again captured by the Japanese. Burke comes to realize that this might not be the worst thing in the world.

I liked this book. It had a solid story line and I enjoyed that it jumped between Burke’s time in WWII and him as an old man. It felt appropriate. My biggest overall complaint is that I didn’t feel that the title matched the book. I didn’t really see Burke as a coward but I did see how one cowardly moment defined him. When he couldn’t leave the beach to sail away from Japan, it was fear that kept him on the sand, and that decision led him to a closer relationship with Kioshi and a compassion for the Japanese people. I’m not sure what a more fitting title would be; titles are very hard for me. Maybe The Decision to Stay?

I loved the way the Japanese characters were portrayed in this book. It seems obvious that Bullock is very familiar with Japanese culture or really did his research. I adored the little story about ‘wave’ having two meanings and the confusion that caused the soldiers. Kioshi and his mom were my favorites and what happened to them in the end really made me tear up. The only bad thing about a WWII setting in Japan is that we all know what happens to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Because I’ve never been a soldier, I couldn’t sympathize with Burke during the war. I don’t know what I would do if I were faced with the same decisions he stared down. I might have jumped in the boat to flee, I might have been too afraid to go. I liked his decisions because they seemed as lost and muddled as a person can be in war. I could relate to the older Burke better, which seems odd. I liked that he was happy, but still lived with regret. I think most of us are like that, even if our regret isn’t what happened to a boy in Japan, there’s something we all wish could have been different in our pasts.

Kioshi was my favorite. He was happy during a time when a lot of things could have made him sad. His father had passed and the men of his village were gone. I suspect he was afraid that he would have to go. But he still had his childhood innocence and that made him infinitely likable. He was a very stark contrast to the war going on around him.

Kyle R. Bullock Image courtesy of the author.

Kyle R. Bullock
Image courtesy of the author

I liked the time Burke spent as a prisoner after the nuclear attack. It felt very real to me that he would help the Japanese, even though he was an American soldier, after what he’d experienced. His previous time as a prisoner was in isolation from the Japanese and he didn’t relate to his captors. His time in the hospital and his relationship with Kioshi and his mother made him significantly more sympathetic to the Japanese the second time around. I loved how natural it felt.

The one part of the book that seemed ‘off’ to me was when Burke and his fell soldiers were escaping from the first prison in a Jeep. They stopped in Kioshi’s little village to ask for directions and seemed to be welcomed with open arms by the villagers. This seemed strange to me. Why would the women whose sons and husband were (presumably) off fighting the Americans, be welcoming them with open arms? Wouldn’t they try to hurt or attack the Americans? This seemed off to me, but it became very integral to the plot at a later point, so I understand why it was there, but it felt a little forced.

The overall message I got from this book was forgiveness. Burke had to forgive himself for what he though of as his cowardice and for having Kioshi and the villagers leave. For Burke, forgiving himself was a lifetime event that it seemed he never completely came to terms with.

The other theme I noticed was a sense of humanity. Burke was able to look past the side of the war the villagers fell on and see them as human beings, worthy of having their lives saved. He looked down on those trying to kill him. When his captors didn’t seem bent on killing him, he wasn’t as set on fighting back. He was a survivor and I don’t think there’s any shame in that.

Writer’s Takeaway: I liked the time setting that Bullock used to tell his story. Using Burke in modern-day looking back on his time in Japan helped create tension. The reader wanted to know how he came to have the flag and could feel the answer creeping but it doesn’t come until the end.

Overall, good, but I’m not a huge fan of war stories. I hope to see more from Bullock going forward and maybe see how he handles a different time period. Three out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Book Review + Excerpt: The Coward by Kyle R. Bullock | Brittsbookandlifeblog
Promo Video for “The Coward” by Kyle R. Bullock | Hamil Bros Studios
Author’s Website