Author: Jan Elvin
Publisher: AMACOM
ISBN: 978-0-8144-1049-3

Click Here To Purchase The Box from Braunau: In Search of My Father's War

“Soldiers aren’t the only casualties of war”, says author Jan Elvin in the afterword of this engrossing and well written memoir. ” Their families suffer as well although their battles are fought later, on the home front.” 

While never diagnosed, Elvin’s father  may have suffered the ruinous effects of post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) long after his return from the front as an American soldier during World War II, in turn emotionally scarring his wife and children as well. Struggling to hide his trauma while providing for his family in the years following the War, Bill Elvin steadily became a controlling and emotionally remote father, prone to anxiety, erratic behaviour and sudden bouts of violence when startled. He became a pillar of his community and a respected reporter, but failed to preserve his marriage or build strong bonds with his four children. This book is the story of his daughter’s attempt , nearly fifty years later, at understanding what he went through during the war, and how this might have affected  his life thereafter.

The Box from Braunau : In Search of My Father’s War begins with the author’s realization that a simple gift her father received during the war from a prisoner he helped liberate from the Nazis might hold the key to discovering her father . This book chronicles her investigation into her father's experiences during World War II, many of which he never revealed to his family. As Elvin delves deeper into her research  and encourages her father to begin speaking about his experiences, she realizes that he had witnessed not only frontline combat but also the chilling horrors of a slave labour camp in Austria . Meeting other veterans and survivors of the war, she further realizes that her family’s struggle was far from unique; thousands of families like hers struggled with PTSD then, and continue to do so around the world.

The narrative, interspersed with extracts from Bill Elvin’s lucid war time journal , is elegant  and restrained; Elvin knows when to step back and let her father  do the talking. The gaps in his journal, the issues he felt unable to write about, are filled in with meticulous research,  giving the reader a seamless and detailed picture of the War from the American perspective. 

I liked the way Elvin built up a portrait of her father by delving right back into  his childhood, examining the incidents that shaped him and guided him towards the choices he made. Bill Elvin emerges as a flawed but remarkable man, displaying great courage under adversity and  dedicated to his family despite their estrangement.  She is also honest about her own feelings of anger and resentment towards her parents as she struggled to deal with their separation and the responsibilities this thrust on her. 

As much as this is a tribute to Bill Elvin, it is also about the author’s own search for closure on a lot of unresolved issues she had with her father.  It is heartening to note that she does indeed achieve this and, towards the end of his life, grow closer to him. But above all, the book seeks to reach out to  families of soldiers in past and ongoing combat zonesaround the world, to help them deal with the psychological battles that may continue long after they return home. 

Click Here To Purchase The Box from Braunau: In Search of My Father's War