Idea/Concept: The second volume in a series of memoirs, Bernard N. Lee, Jr.'s A Look Back in Time: Volume II digs into rich material: the experiences of an African-American teen army brat and his family while stationed in Germany in the late 1950s, during the period of desegregation of the military. The author covers growing up, cultural changes, social unrest, marital struggles, and how these three years overseas have shaped his understanding of himself, his home country – and his idea of what a man owes to his family. This is vital, arresting material.
Prose: Lee writes with forceful clarity. His prose is assertive, detailed, convincing, and never ambiguous. He is empathetic and attentive to the emotional states of everyone he writes about, including himself. At times, he offers more detail than readers might prefer, especially in the prologue and first chapter; the book might also benefit from a little more "telling” of why a detailed memory or scene might matter.
Originality: The story here, like the life that it's drawn from, is unique and fascinating, and almost overflowing with detail.
Execution: The author has a keen eye and a voluminous memory, and his pages come to life as he recalls playing the guitar at a jam session, spinning Elvis records at a party, practicing for a sock hop with his sister, or scoring a job setting pins at a bowling alley. Especially engaging are the late passages, near the book's end, about tensions in the army over desegregation, as well as trouble in his parents' marriage, especially concerning money and gambling. Those passages emit urgency; others, while written with grace, might prove more compelling if the author guided readers more toward what mattered most or why these memories mean so much to him today. A chapter like "Field Trip to a Pencil Factory" offers some fine sentences but lacks that urgency and narrative momentum.
Date Submitted: November 27, 2019
"Anyone wanting to understand the 20th century Army brat abroad is recommended to read A Look Back in Time, a memoir which admirably conveys a large slice of an Anerican boy's life in Germany.
I was drawn in by the narrator's awed voice as he tells the story of his magical experience flying on a plane with his family to Germany. The near crash rendered that experience a nigtmare averted just like the one following, when the author's father managed not to kill a German child while driving the whole family in an army jeep.
It is fun to read about Lee making friends and interesting to see how his parents disciplined him and his siblings. The difference in musical tastes between the narrator and the German boys he makes friends with serves to show differences in culture. It is nice to read about how these friends ended up in the same bowling alley as Lee, and interesting to discover how dangerous that job could be!
I was not surprised that the author's essay on Goethe placed fourth in the competition because the author has obvious talent. Some of the most interesting scenes in the book are those involved with activities like boxing, ice skating, football, or dancing. I was sorry that the author had to leave Elsie behind."
A Look Back in Time: Memoir of a Military Kid in the 50s, Vol. II, “…is an excellent chronicle outlining the life of a great father and his son. Bernard has captured the true essence of being part of a military family in the late 1950s in Germany. Through his eyes, we take ‘a look back in time’ filled with adventures of hope, peril, leadership challenges and triumphs. I am sure this book will provide a connection for young men and women, who travel life’s journey as members of our proud military families.”