Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation Of A World War II Fighter Pilot by Bruce and Andrea Leininger with Ken Gross was published by Hay House. The book tells the story the search for the past of the Leininger family’s son. The book is a revelation, but probably not in the sense intended when written. There are lessons to be learned, though.
The boy in question was James Leininger. He was two years old when he started having atrocious nightmares. These nightmares of a burning plane with him inside led his parents on a quest to identify the soul that inhabited their son; other parents would be more careful what the family watch on TV before they put their children to bed. Equipped with a few snatched words they imagined hearing like ’James Huston’, ‘Jack Larsen’, ‘Natoma’, and ‘Corsair’, they went out to find out about the previous life led by their son.
Their search led them to Japan, to an old lady who was the sister of a WWII hero, and to a veterans’ reunion of the Natoma, a WWII aircraft carrier, while collecting the evidence for a case of reincarnation. What is astonishing is the total lack of interest in alternate explanations. Someone clearly was on a mission, but to what end?
If the idea seems so preposterous to you as to be unbelievable, you are probably right. The initial plot is done quite well and in the confines of believable possibilities, it’s piling up the evidence that undoes the plot. Most revealingly, the most American of reactions is completely missing in the book: Calling in the shrink.
One of the proofs for reincarnation included a book about Iwo Jima that father Leininger presented to his father, James' grandfather. It is quite clear at that point that the interest in WWII ran in the family, and I for one would love to know what stories the grand-father might have told his grandson. But it makes you suspicious about the premises of the quest in the first place if you hadn't had those from the start.
There are inconsistencies: For instance, I doubt my son aged two would have been articulate enough to correct me from seeing a bomb underneath a fighter plane to tell me that it was a drop tank. And setting up the parents Leininger in the bad cop good cop alignment where Bruce doesn't believe in it and Andrea does, doesn't make anything more believable. It rather made me wonder why Bruce was doing all the research in the case if he was so much against it.
As the book progresses, the proofs provided get more curious. There is the case of the sister who had felt a presence on the day of her brother’s death, but remembered it only much later (oh what wondrous things are our memories!). Starting out from ‘nobody saw him go down’, Bruce goes to find no less than two witnesses of the fatal hit over Japanese waters. Curiously, both witnesses hadn't reported their observations on debriefing. What a coincidence.
The book was safely published after all the witnesses were safely dead. This brought me to the conclusion that we are dealing with one more American urban myth. That the writing style is rather like the howling of a cheaply made advert doesn't help either. Descriptive emotions are piled on witnesses and family members. The result is reminiscent of a cake gone black in the oven and covered with oozing globs of topping to hide the damage and the bad taste.
Obviously, the conclusion is: Don't buy the book; don't even waste the time of reading it. But it contains several valuable lessons for writers. If you are a ghostwriter like Ken Gross, don't write about something you have no clue of; or if you have a clue and it looks suspicious, bail out and drop it like red hot coal. And once a book has been written, have someone read it who is able to show up blatant inconsistencies. And then act on them.