Summary: Chapter 34, The Shimmering Girl

Hillenbrand offers information about General MacArthur’s ordered arrest of war-crime suspects. The Bird was on this list. Hillenbrand then offers reporting on the Bird’s path after he left Naoetsu. He attempts to disappear, even as the search for him intensifies. There is speculation about his potential suicide, but nothing is certain. An eighty-four-count indictment is drawn up based on reports of many POWs.

Louie returns home feeling grateful but also uneasy. When his family plays a recording of Louie’s recorded broadcast, Louie yells and orders his sister to smash the record. His family is shocked by his behavior, and Louie retreats to his bedroom, where he is haunted by dreams of the Bird. Louie is not the only person haunted by the Bird’s actions. Many men report his abuses to the military.

Louie, meanwhile, is the subject of much attention. He is invited to make many appearances and to give speeches. Only Louie’s closest friends suspect that Louie is haunted by difficult emotions. He sought relief by hiking in the mountains but feels anxiety again when he returned. He starts to drink alcohol at all hours.

In Miami Beach, Louie sees a beautiful woman and thinks that he will marry this woman. The next day, he and his friend encounter the beautiful woman and her friend. Her name is Cynthia Applewhite. Her background is one of privilege and of adventurousness. Many men are interested in this beautiful woman. By the end of that same month, Louie and Cynthia decide to marry.

When Cynthia’s parents refuse to allow her to marry and will not pay for her flight to California, they correspond via near-daily letters. In California, Louie makes wedding plans, quits drinking, and takes a stable job at Warner Brothers studios, but he is still anxious. Louie worries about whether Cynthia’s parents will oppose the wedding. Meanwhile, Louie starts to train for the 1948 Olympic games in London. Cynthia promises her parents that she will wait until the fall to marry Louie. In California, they argue but again decide to marry. They quickly marry on May 25. Cynthia’s parents are not happy.

Summary: Chapter 35, Coming Undone

This chapter opens with a jovial restaurant scene with Phil, Cecy, Louie, Cynthia, and Fred Garrett. The happiness is shattered when Fred reacts hysterically when served white rice. The chapter moves to present statistical information on the physical conditions of the war survivors before cataloguing the emotional scars of the war inflicted on the soldiers who lived through it.

Louie still thinks about the Bird, but these thoughts hang at the edges of his mind and dreams. Back from their honeymoon, Louie and Cynthia live temporarily at the house of Harry Read’s mother. Cynthia does not feel comfortable there, and Louie wants to secure a proper home for them. Louie does not yet have a regular job, but he makes enough money to be able to rent a small apartment in a part of Hollywood. When the Bird returns to his dreams, Louie puts his energy into training for the Olympics. One day, with Cynthia timing him, he pushes too hard and realizes the limits of his injured ankle. He must face the fact that he will not be able to return to the Olympics.

Louie returns to bad habits, including smoking and drinking. He starts to feel and to express rage. He soon experiences his first flashback. At Cynthia’s suggestion, he sees a counselor but soon quits when he does not feel any better. Louie starts to become consumed with thoughts of taking revenge on the Bird by killing him.


In the falling action of the war and of Louie’s story, the reader expects some people to be punished for the ways they abused the POWs. Hillenbrand puts this in historical context and Louie’s emotional conflict with the Bird is still not resolved, and neither is the larger political conflict with the Bird. He is still at-large. The feelings that Louie had right after the war have been replaced by anger and a need for revenge. Even though Louie is not still in Japan, he is still in conflict with the Bird. He has a murderous desire to find him and to kill him.

Chapter Thirty-Four captures the emotional scars the war leave on Louie and on the ways he medicates himself with alcohol. His family members had not known about the horrors Louie had experienced and were not prepared for Louie’s reactions. Today, there is a stronger understanding of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and doctors would likely recognize Louie’s reaction to the record as a symptom of this. Soldiers today would also likely be encouraged to seek counseling, but at this point Louie tries to push down the emotions. He is able to do this while inebriated and while awake, but at night, he cannot stop his dreams. The pressures and attention of being a celebrity might have exacerbated Louie’s problems, because he tries to put on a face to match the image America has of him.

Hillenbrand underscores this with the grim statistics regarding the scars of war. She skillfully infuses blunt statistical information about the emotional and physical toll of war. The facts are startling but true. Many soldiers suffered horribly after the war, and many experienced a desire for revenge. Many soldiers simply could not recover from their wartime experiences. Fred’s trauma is triggered by the sight of white rice. In this era, the psychology of war was not understood as well as it is today. Many soldiers suffered even more because of the misunderstanding with which their symptoms were interpreted and treated.

After presenting this context, Hillenbrand returns to narration with information about the initial peace Louie feels with Cynthia. Louie is able to keep his demons at bay for a time, with the bliss of new marriage and then with training for the Olympics. But once Louie is no longer able to train, and he is deeper into his marriage, his demons return. Louie is not yet done with the war. He now faces an internal war, with his raging emotions in control.

Louie’s relationship with Cynthia becomes a conflict. He falls so suddenly for Cynthia that one might wonder if this was true love or a war-related response. The marriage seems so sudden and fraught with warning signs that one wonders if it will survive. Also, the cultural differences between them, their lack of full knowledge of each other, and the brief period of their courtship seem to spell disaster. Louie’s underlying anxiety and drinking problems have not been solved, and this fact makes this marriage feel doomed. Louie does not yet seem fully in control of his emotions. His emotions, in fact, seem to be controlling him. Still, there is a magic to their relationship, including that Cynthia recalls seeing a newsreel clip about Louie when she was twelve years old. There is a hint of destiny here.

As a character, Louie has not yet reached resolution. He still experiences conflict, both inner and outer. Louie’s positive episodes are still followed by negative ones. The waves of conflict in the book have settled significantly, but they are not yet entirely gone. Louie has not entered still waters.