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The Liberator: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau
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WW2 AUTHOR'S Q&A > 1st November - "The Liberator" by Alex Kershaw

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message 1: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (last edited Nov 01, 2012 08:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 18061 comments description

In this thread members can ask questions and discuss Alex Kershaw's new book; The Liberator with the author.

The Liberator One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau by Alex Kershaw by Alex Kershaw
The riveting true story of the bloodiest and most dramatic march to victory of the Second World War, following the battlefield odyssey of a maverick U.S. Army officer and his infantry unit as they fought from the invasion of Italy to the liberation of Dachau at war's end.

From July 10, 1943, the date of the Allied landing in Sicily, to May 8, 1945, when victory in Europe was declared-roughly 500 days-no regiment saw more action, and no single platoon, company, or battalion endured worse, than the one commanded by Felix Sparks, a greenhorn second lieutenant when "The Liberator" begins. Historian Alex Kershaw vividly portrays the immense courage and stamina of Sparks and his men as they fought terrifying engagements against Hitler's finest troops in Sicily and Salerno and as they endured attack after attack on the beaches of Anzio (with Sparks miraculously emerging as his 200-man company's sole survivor). In the bloody battle for southern France, Sparks led his reconstituted unit into action against superbly equipped and trained die-hard SS troops and demonstrated how the difference between defeat and victory would be a matter of character, not tactics or hardware. Finally, he and his men were ordered to liberate Dachau, the Nazis' first concentration camp. It would be their greatest challenge, a soul-searing test of their humanity.



message 2: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (last edited Oct 31, 2012 06:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 18061 comments Here are some advance reviews of Alex’s book; The Liberator just to get folks started:



“Alex Kershaw's gripping account of one man's wartime experiences has both the intimacy of a diary and the epic reach of a military history. The Liberator reminds us of the complexity and moral ambiguity of the Second World War.” – Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire

“[Kershaw] is a captivating narrator, hammering home the chaos and carnage of war, sparing no sensory detail to paint a cohesive picture. [His] portrayal of his subject (based on interviews with Sparks, who died in 2007, and other survivors) makes for a riveting, almost epic tale of a larger-than-life, underappreciated figure.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Inspiring….A gripping and superbly told account of men in war.” – Booklist

“A searing, brilliantly told story of the heroism and horror of war, Alex Kershaw’s The Liberator is a book that’s impossible to put down. A must read for anyone who loved Band of Brothers.” – Lynne Olson, author of Citizens of London

“Alex Kershaw, long acclaimed for his terse, lightning-fast narratives of true wartime action and heroism, reaches his full maturity with this sweeping saga of a legendary infantry unit and the leader who spurred it to glory.” – Ron Powers, co-author of Flags of Our Fathers

“A literary tour de force. Kershaw brilliantly captures the pathos and untold perspective of WWII through the eyes of one of its most courageous, unsung officers – a great leader, who always put his men first. The Liberator is a compelling, cinematic story of the highest order." – Patrick K. O’Donnell, combat historian and author of Dog Company

THE LIBERATOR (reviewed on October 1, 2012)
“Well-researched, sprawling account of unforgiving combat in World War II, told with pulpy immediacy.

Kershaw (The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II, 2010, etc.) crafts a dramatic historical narrative from lesser-known aspects of the European campaign by simultaneously focusing on the larger sweep of events and the experiences of one officer, Felix Sparks, whom the author interviewed prior to Sparks’ death in 2007. Sparks joined the Army as a way out of the Depression and was a lieutenant in the 45th “Thunderbird” Division of the National Guard when war broke out; the intensity of his combat experience was indicated by his rank of colonel at the war’s end. Sparks and his unit had a grueling wartime record: a year and a half of nearly constant combat, starting with the 1943 invasion of Sicily. Fortunately, Sparks “loved being a rifle company commander”; as the war intensified, he was seen as an officer with the rare combination of combat experience and esprit de corps. Yet multiple calamities befell Sparks and his unit, including the loss of his entire command during Anzio. Later, Sparks faced elite SS troops in harsh winter combat and was among the first American officers to liberate a concentration camp. Kershaw emphasizes the lethal, grinding absurdity of the European theater, which ultimately drove ordinary Americans like Sparks toward feats of bravery and endurance. Although the gruff dialogue and broad canvas of supporting characters can give the book the dramatized feel of a miniseries, it is an appealing addition to the literature of World War II.

This engrossing wartime narrative offers a fresh look at the European campaign and an intimate sense of the war’s toll on individual participants.” – Kirkus Reviews


message 3: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (last edited Oct 31, 2012 06:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 18061 comments Hi Alex,

Firstly thanks for taking the time to answer questions on your book The Liberator. I am sure many members of the group will appreciate the time you take in responding.

I am posting this question a bit early since you may be logging in on 1st November (US time) while I’m still asleep over here in Australia due to the difference in time zones.

I have read a number of your books so I am looking forward to reading your latest title once it arrives on Australia’s sunny shore which hasn’t occurred yet. As such I can’t ask you any questions specifically about the content of your latest book but would like to know why you decided to write about Felix Sparks? How did you ‘discover’ Felix Sparks and what drew him to you to compel you to write this book?


message 4: by Paul (new)

Paul (paul_gephart) | 364 comments Funny thing, AR, is that is precisely the question I was going to ask Alex!


Alex Kershaw | 38 comments I was researching a story about men who liberated the camps in WW11. I came across an extraordinary photograph which showed a young American officer, Felix Sparks, firing his pistol into the air on 29 April 1945. He is in a coal-yard at Dachau, which he has just liberated, and some of his men have opened fire on SS soldiers. He is firing his pistol and shouting to make them stop. The image captures an amazing moment of incredible humanity when one considers that Sparks had by then spent over 500 days in brutalizing combat, losing an entire company at Anzio and a battalion to the SS, since landing on the first day of the invasion of Europe. Most people would not have stopped the killing of such evil men, just minutes after discovering the full horrors of Hitler's first concentration camp. I had to meet this man and in 2007 I interviewed him, literally on his death-bed. No other American fought for longer or suffered more to free more people from the greatest evil of modern times.


message 6: by happy (last edited Nov 01, 2012 01:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

happy (happyone) | 2241 comments Mr. Kershaw,

I haven't had a chance to read your newest offering. It is on order for me at our local library.
As a teenager I had a chance to visit Dachau twice with my high school. Very moving.

How do you select the topics to write on. IE the platoon from the 99th ID in "The Longest Winter" or the company from the 29th ID in "The Bedford Boys"

Thnx


Alex Kershaw | 38 comments I do a lot of research and talk to a lot of people - sometimes it does not work out.It's very hard to find people now. So long ago, but I'll keep on trying.


message 8: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 18061 comments Hi Alex, thanks for the information on Felix Sparks and how he came to your notice - that has really made me want to grab a copy of your book and start reading as soon as possible.

Out of all the books on WW2 that I have read I cannot recall ever seeing that photograph or anything like it, had it been hidden away somewhere and never saw the light of day?


message 9: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 18061 comments Is it a case that while you are researching a book that you come across information on something else and you tuck it away in the back of your mind thinking that would make a good story one day?


message 10: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 18061 comments Hi again Alex,

Was Felix Sparks' family aware of what he had endured during WW2 and of the incident at Dachau?

Thinking more about that incident he must have truly been a very forgiving and considerate man to stop his soldiers killing those SS soldiers after uncovering the horrors of a Concentration camp.

Interviewing him on his death bed must have been very emotional, how did you find talking to him about the incident, did it affect you in a way you weren't prepared for?


message 11: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments Hi Rick

Sparks' family were not aware of this to the extent they may now be aware of it. I think the moment he stopped the killing defined him at his essence - a great officer and leader who was a humanist to his core.
I was very very moved interviewing him in his last year of life - I have met many veterans of WW11 but this man was a true giant!

best

alex


message 12: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 18061 comments Hi Alex,

Again I just want to pass on my thanks for taking the time to drop in and answer questions from members. The information you have supplied so far has really got me interested in your latest book and having really enjoyed your previous titles; The Bedford Boys and The Few I can't wait to start reading your new book.

I know this is a hard question but out of all the books you have written do you have a favourite and if so why?


message 13: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 18061 comments What was it like following Felix Sparks through WW2 and researching & discovering some of the terrible events in his life? In writing The Liberator did it affect you, the author, in anyway that you can recall Alex?


message 14: by Ryan (last edited Nov 04, 2012 06:13AM) (new)

Ryan Wulfsohn | 37 comments Hi Alex.

I thought The Bedford Boys was very good. I know you live in the US and that is the biggest market for WW2 history books but do you have any plans for any books on non-US subjects? Is there a viable market for WW2 books not on the US or I suppose the UK or Germany? I am South African and most people (whether here or in other countries) are barely aware that we fought in WW2. I would love to a write a book on South Africa's role in the war (or at least an aspect of it) but I fear that no-one would read it.


message 15: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments 'Aussie Rick' wrote: "Hi Alex,

Again I just want to pass on my thanks for taking the time to drop in and answer questions from members. The information you have supplied so far has really got me interested in your late..."


'Aussie Rick' wrote: "Hi Alex,

Again I just want to pass on my thanks for taking the time to drop in and answer questions from members. The information you have supplied so far has really got me interested in your late..."


'Aussie Rick' wrote: "Hi Alex,

Again I just want to pass on my thanks for taking the time to drop in and answer questions from members. The information you have supplied so far has really got me interested in your late..."


Hey, I enjoyed most of them, but the Bedford Boys was very satisfying because a whole community embraced me. I felt I'd left a mark on a place, and had brought so many people a good feeling of pride. The Longest Winter was great fun because I spent so much time with the vets - all great fun.


message 16: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments Ryan wrote: "Hi Alex.

I thought The Bedford Boys was very good. I know you live in the US and that is the biggest market for WW2 history books but do you have any plans for any books on non-US subjects? Is the..."



Actually, a mate of mine is from South Africa and has great stories about the war in Africa - I think a big book about Africa at war needs to be done - it is fascinating, and would do well, but nothing that solely focuses on one nation or group - a big AFRICA war book would be very cool.


message 17: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments 'Aussie Rick' wrote: "Hi Alex, thanks for the information on Felix Sparks and how he came to your notice - that has really made me want to grab a copy of your book and start reading as soon as possible.

Out of all the..."


Great question - in the book I describe how the photo was found - it's an incredible story. It actually forms the climax of the book in some ways. The photo is one of four frames from a motion film - discovered fifty years later in a garage in New Jersey!


message 18: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments 'Aussie Rick' wrote: "What was it like following Felix Sparks through WW2 and researching & discovering some of the terrible events in his life? In writing The Liberator did it affect you, the author, in anyway that you..."

I got very close to the trauma and pride and deep emotions of these men, and the families. WW11 to many is just a hobby, something they love but do not feel in their bones, something they also feel compelled to turn into flag-waving and know-it-all competition of who knows more and who can nit-pick best. I've spent my adult life talking to vets and writing about them. I continue because I owe it to the people who fought and freed the places I love most, and I owe it to the dozens of men I've met and known and have since died. But publishing these days is mostly a dying business, and it's hard to make a decent living when people no longer read, and don't want to pay for a decent product even if they do. Amazon has really been a terrible influence - but the publishers should have pushed back and been stronger and looked harder at the business model which is wasteful and does not work for 99% of authors.


message 19: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments Paul wrote: "Funny thing, AR, is that is precisely the question I was going to ask Alex!"

hey, I met him and was bowled over by his soul and spirit - a giant of man. someone who could have lead the US, anyone or any country, to a better place.


message 20: by Ryan (last edited Nov 04, 2012 08:01AM) (new)

Ryan Wulfsohn | 37 comments Alex wrote: "Ryan wrote: "Hi Alex.

I thought The Bedford Boys was very good. I know you live in the US and that is the biggest market for WW2 history books but do you have any plans for any books on non-US sub..."


Interesting idea. It would have to be really big, and a collaborative effort, since there have been many wars in Africa, or that African troops have been involved in, and it is a very large continent. I still don't think it would be able to cover specific things in enough detail, the kind of thing you do.

There have been quite a lot of books about "modern" African wars, including a number of excellent memoirs, but relatively few about Africa in Ww2 (if you don't count stuff about the North African campaigns).


message 21: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments 'Aussie Rick' wrote: "Hi Alex, thanks for the information on Felix Sparks and how he came to your notice - that has really made me want to grab a copy of your book and start reading as soon as possible.

Out of all the..."


HEY, HERE'S MORE ON THE BOOK AND MY OTHERS - YOU MIGHT FIND IT VERY USEFUL

http://entertainment.time.com/2012/10...


message 22: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments Ryan wrote: "Alex wrote: "Ryan wrote: "Hi Alex.

I thought The Bedford Boys was very good. I know you live in the US and that is the biggest market for WW2 history books but do you have any plans for any books ..."


I THINK AN ALLIES V AXIS BOOK ON AFRICA WOULD BE COOL!


message 23: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 18061 comments Thanks for the link to that review at Times Entertainment. Ben Cosgrove has really provided a very good review of your book and if it doesn't get people interested in your story I'm not too sure what will. I found these comments from the review very telling:

"Kershaw has forged something of an authorial niche in recent years, breathing new life into largely forgotten chapters from the war while capturing much of the era’s very best (its heroism, its sacrifice) and very worst (treachery, venality, downright evil).

Through deep, old-school research and interviews with those who survived — and through letters, telegrams and the memories of friends and family of those who never made it home — Kershaw has ensured that individuals and entire battles that might have been lost to history, or overshadowed by more “important” people and events, have their own place in the vast, protean tale of World War II."


And this:

"But where Kershaw succeeds, and where The Liberator is at its most riveting and satisfying, is in its delineation of Felix Sparks as a good man that other men would follow into Hell — and in its unblinking, matter-of-fact description, in battle after battle, of just how gruesome, terrifying and dehumanizing that Hell could be. Near the end of the book, when Sparks’ Thunderbirds, unhinged by the horrors of Dachau, begin to hunt down and kill unarmed Germans — even as many of the Germans are surrendering — the wanton slaughter feels, somehow, inevitable: all of the violent death and loss that Kershaw so ably chronicles in the book has led, inexorably, to this heart of darkness.

That the one officer who refuses to be swept up in the madness, and orders his men to stop the killing, is none other than Felix Sparks? That also feels inevitable. Like something out of Euripides, or a sicker, more deranged Titus Andronicus, Sparks bringing even a modicum of order to such moral chaos after an eruption of vengeance-fueled violence — there, at the end of all things — feels, in a word, cathartic. And catharsis, as we know, is nothing if not liberating."


The book sounds like it will be a great story, can't wait to read it.


message 24: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments Thanks a lot. Please pass the word!


message 25: by Helen (last edited Nov 06, 2012 05:02AM) (new)

Helen (helenmarylesshankman) | 99 comments This book sounds amazing, Alex. I'm particularly interested in how American GIs reacted when they stumbled onto concentration camps without knowing beforehand about the atrocities.


message 26: by Chris (last edited Nov 07, 2012 06:53PM) (new) - added it

Chris | 84 comments Hey Alex, I was wondering what draws you in specifically to WWII versus other wars? Have you thought about writing about Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc?


message 27: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments Helen wrote: "This book sounds amazing, Alex. I'm particularly interested in how American GIs reacted when they stumbled onto concentration camps without knowing beforehand about the atrocities."

they were dumbfounded and traumatized. some wanted vengeance - all wanted to go home. best, alex


message 28: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Kershaw | 38 comments Chrissy wrote: "Hey Alex, I was wondering what draws you in specifically to WWII versus other wars? Have you thought about writing about Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc?"

not really - I hate everything to do with war except humanity = WW11 is the only war I agree with.

best

alex


message 29: by Helen (new)

Helen (helenmarylesshankman) | 99 comments Thanks, Alex. I look forward to reading it.


message 30: by Paul (new)

Paul (paul_gephart) | 364 comments Off the main topic, I just read another book by Alex ("The Envoy") and was absolutely fascinated with Raoul Wallenberg, an individual superior in many ways to Oskar Schindler. (Of course, anyone who was willing to risk the consequences of saving even one life in such circumstances is worth celebrating.)

I think he knew his fate was inevitable and acted boldly in all situations, knowing that he needed to save as many lives as he could as quickly as possible, and he was fearless about doing so. An incredibly courageous person!

My question, Alex, is whether anyone has wanted to make a movie based on what you have written. I think it would make a great motion picture! You did a fabulous job with that book.

The Envoy The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II by Alex Kershaw


message 31: by 'Aussie Rick', Moderator (last edited Nov 20, 2012 05:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) | 18061 comments I've asked this question of Pat about his book Dog Company but I'd like to ask it of you as well Alex and your book The Liberator.

"After the movie Saving Private Ryan and the HBO series; Band of Brothers do you think Hollywood would be interested in making your book into a movie?"


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