4 out of 4 stars
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Some lives are so chalked full of action, incredulous activities, and adventure, that they are just screaming to be shared with the rest of the world. Sometimes this is due to the places they have been, sometimes the things they have done, sometimes the situations they have found themselves in, and sometimes all three. The latter is unquestionably the case with the life of Hank Gillebaard as presented by author Melissa Guzzetta in her book Private Lucky.
This book follows the life of the American-born, but Dutch-raised, Hank Gillebaard as he navigates his way through the defining times in his life. First, the story focuses on Hank's early teenage years in Amsterdam before, during, and just after the German occupation of Holland during the Second World War. During this time he watches dogfighting aircraft over the Schiphol Airport, gets wrongly arrested for being Jewish, and goes into hiding to avoid working for the Germans in order to support the war effort. Next, Hank joins the American military. Although Hank doesn't speak a word of English, his father thinks it'll be a better opportunity for him than joining the Dutch military. Since Hank was born in Detroit, this option is available to him. During this time, he struggles to be understood, uses his ability to speak German to his advantage, and never stops pursuing his dream to fly. After his military terms of service in Europe, Hank decides to take his chances in America. Here he travels all over the country, secures jobs for which he is wholly unqualified by showing them a general-purpose Dutch diploma (and telling potential employers that the Dutch text says exactly what they need for him to be qualified for the job), and even buys a used plane to fulfill his dream of becoming a (initially unlicensed) pilot.
There is a lot to love about Private Lucky. Hank's life is made up of adventure after adventure and Guzzetta captures it wonderfully. The book, in addition to being a fun tale of exploits, also manages to give the reader a unique insight into the times during which Hank lived. For me, this was particularly interesting with Nazi-occupied Holland. Most of us reading a book like this are fortunate enough to never have had another nation hold their country hostage. Although many have heard about the horrors of World War II, it is likely that much of the details of occupied civilian life will be unknown today's generations. Another prevalent theme in this book was that of persistence. Hank never gives up on his dreams of flying and nor does he left a minor set back, like being unqualified for something, stop him from getting a job. Although I don't necessarily agree with some of his methods, Hank's persistence and refusal to quit is admirable. What I like the most about this book was the connection I personally had with many elements of the book. I have been to several locations described in this book, have experienced military life similar to his, and have a particular soft spot for the campaign surrounding the liberation of Holland. This book does an excellent job of conveying serious tones, accentuating humor, and projecting the intended themes of this book.
As this is a book writing about the life of an actual human being, it is hard to criticize the contents of the book itself. That being said, the thing that I liked the least about this book goes hand in hand with something that I liked above. Even though I praise persistence earlier in this review, there are definitely some actions of questionable morality that were emphasized within the book. The most severe of which would be lying over and over again to get jobs for which Hank was unqualified. Even though no major incident took place, some of these lies could have endangered his life or those of others. Besides this, there was little to reproach from the way the book was put together, edited, and presented to the eager reader.
I was thoroughly engrossed in Private Lucky and loved reveling in the amazing life that this man has lived. As there was little negative I can say about this book, I am pleased to give it a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for lovers of memoirs, those who like true stories about World War II, and those that like reading about incredible lives. If you really have an aversion to the "memoir" genre, you should probably steer clear of this one.
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