A daughter remembers her troubled ex-POW father.
Catherine Madison describes acts of stunning cruelty in a courageous memoir about life with her father, including the time he punched her in the mouth. Madison was a teenager who stayed out five minutes past her curfew. She ran through the streets trying to get home on time. Her father was waiting at the door "sputtering, furious" and yelling, "Where the hell have you been?" Accusations flew about what she'd been doing, and then, Madison writes, "the fist caught me square in the mouth."
That scene in "The War Came Home With Him" may not be the one readers consider the most shocking — others were just as terrible or worse — but it exemplifies the unwavering anger Doc Boysen exhibited in his family's day-to-day life.
On the night she broke curfew, Madison's career military father told her, "You're a soldier in this man's army, and you better well behave like one." But it was Boysen, not his children, who was in the Army, and Madison, despite her best efforts, knew there was little chance of pleasing him. "It didn't seem to matter what I did or didn't do," she writes. "I was evil waiting to happen."
It was a long time before Madison realized that there was a link between her father's behavior and the more than three years he spent as a prisoner of war in North Korea in the early 1950s. Boysen and thousands of others suffered starvation, forced marches, freezing temperatures and torture. Boysen returned from Korea a changed man. It wasn't until after his death that Madison discovered what he had endured.
Madison, former editor in chief of the Utne Reader, has transformed her meticulous research into the Korean conflict and her father's written account of his imprisonment into a remarkable memoir. It should be lauded for its unflinching honesty as Madison recalls the harrowing moments in her complicated relationship with her sometimes steady, often volatile father.
Through it all, Madison held on tight to her enduring love for him. "I could not imagine life without my father," she writes when he was taken ill. "He was the magnet that bound us to each other, whether we hid in fear or basked in fun times. Our lives revolved around him, sick or well, sane or crazy."
Madison chronicles the legacy of a much neglected part of U.S. history while bravely dissecting the enduring bond between an enigmatic father and his curious daughter.
Memmott also reviews books for the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post.