Breaking the Code by Karen Fisher-Alaniz

By Ekta R. Garg

November 2011

Rated: Bookmark it!

The men and women in our armed forces have seen firsthand the horrors of war.  Moreover, they have participated in those horrors, and many of them carry the responsibility—and often the burden—for doing so.  Their contribution to the safety of our country remains unprecedented, but civilians forget the impact of these massive conflicts on the ones who elected to serve and mete out protection.

Karen Fisher-Alaniz’s father, Murray Fisher, served in the navy during World War II, and although she heard his stories as she grew up she never thought about the impact those experiences had on her father.  On his 81st birthday, Mr. Fisher pulled Karen aside, handed her two notebooks full of handwritten letters, and told her to do with those notebooks as she desired.

Curious, Karen discovered the letters were those her father had written his own parents during his time in WWII.  As she began reading them, the letters transported her to a time she’d heard about so often and yet had never quite understood.  And suddenly Karen had a connection to her father she’d never had before.

Breaking the Code takes readers on Karen’s journey as she makes her way through the letters and discovers the secret her father had kept from her for so many years.  In the latter part of WWII, Mr. Fisher received training to copy a code called Katakana based on the Japanese language.  The Japanese used this code during the war to transmit secret messages, and the United States military managed to intercept the code and use trained code-breaking teams to copy, analyze, and forward the code to their superiors.

In an order that seemed to come straight from a spy movie, the instructor teaching Mr. Fisher and his code-breaking teammates made the severity of their work loud and clear.

“If you reveal anything about what you are doing, you will be sent to solitary for the remainder of the war.  If what you revealed compromises security, you will be shot, without court-martial.”

The stress of their work weighed heavily on Mr. Fisher and his colleagues, but they followed their orders.  They never spoke of their work—not even to one another.  And that silence became an integral part of Mr. Fisher’s personality, as Karen realizes in the reading of her father’s letters.

The letters spark conversations between father and daughter, conversations neither of them had ever had.  More importantly, the conversations give Mr. Fisher a chance to share, slowly and painfully, bit by small bit, his experiences with his daughter and the important part he played in WWII.  And eventually Mr. Fisher reveals another secret, one that shocks his daughter.

Ms. Fisher-Alaniz’s story compels readers to keep going as she details her father’s emotional struggle with his memories of the war.  Unlike a novel this memoir has no neat ending, and it serves as a somber reminder of the hefty price our servicemen and servicewomen pay to do their job well.  The title, too, captures the essence of Mr. Fisher’s story: his work to break the code of the Japanese; his efforts to break the code of silence to which he swore himself decades earlier; and his struggle to break the code of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that now haunts him.

I highly recommend this book for all readers.  Those with a family member in the armed services will appreciate the homage this book pays to our military.  Those who don’t personally know anyone in the military need to know how hard our military members work, not just during their active duty but for their entire lives.

Reviewed for


What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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