Code Talker (#44/50)

This is officially my final book of the year! I have quite a few friends who’ve said they are doing various reading challenges for their New Year’s resolutions. What are you all doing? It is definitely a challenge to try to read 50 books in a year! But there’s also no shame in aiming for a smaller number or reading a certain number of minutes per day…Anything that encourages people to read more gets my approval. 🙂

Title – Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two

Author – Joseph Bruchac

Page count – 224

Goodreads rating – 4/5 (really liked it)

Our main character is a Navajo boy named Ned, and he is recounting to his grandchildren his experience serving in the South Pacific during WWII. The story follows his journey from early childhood to joining the Marines at 16-years-old to become a “Code Talker.” For those who don’t know, the Code Talkers were Native American soldiers who used their bilingual abilities to communicate unbreakable coded messages.

This was a really interesting book! Even though Ned is fictional, the other named characters and the military events are all real. The sections that focus on battle scenes weren’t necessarily my favorite to read, but they weren’t boring either. The author’s note at the end describing his own Native background and the research he did for this story is definitely worth reading as well. As the author says, this is “a tale that is as much about the beauty of peace and understanding as it is about the pain and confusion of war.”

Ned’s narration brings a necessary element of humanity to this description of war. A significant part of that is his effort to maintain his Native spirituality. Even as he is participating in a violent situation, he remembers how his language connects him to his ancestors, and his community’s rituals and values help him to see the people he is fighting not as faceless enemies but as fellow humans.

Here is one of my favorite passages of an interaction between Ned and a native man on Bougainville Island:

“He took me by the arm and led me to a big rock near the ocean. We sat together there for a time without saying anything. Then he bent over, pressed his palm on the ground, and lifted his hand up to rest it against his chest…He was telling me this land was in his heart…He placed his left hand on my chest and I did the same. We stood there like that for a while feeling each other’s hearts beat with love for our sacred homelands. It was one of the best conversations I ever had.” (p. 103)

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