Ideas for books jump out when you least expect them. As writers, we’ve learned to pay attention to those opportunities. One afternoon several years ago, Réanne was outside a local store and noticed a car with WWII vanity plates parked next to hers. At the time, she was working on The Shelburne Escape Line, a book of first-account stories about Allied airmen rescued by the French Resistance that she’d collected from her many trips to Grenoble, France. She struck up a conversation with the driver of the car, a WWII vet, who gave her a book he thought she might be interested in. The book was neither for sale in bookstores, nor on Amazon. Originally published by Rebecca Pratt, the book was a collection of her father’s diaries written when he was a prisoner of war in Germany. The Cigarette Diaries: A Personal History of life in a WWII Prison Camp was meant as a gift to her father, Frank Pratt, family members, and friends.
Compelling autobiographies and memoirs often hit the bestseller list, but finding a loved one’s diaries that reveal a never-before-told story is like discovering a literary treasure. Réanne recognized The Cigarette Diaries as such a treasure, one that deserved being shared with a wider audience.
But Frank Pratt had passed away, and finding his daughter proved a bit of a challenge. After a few unreturned phone calls and unanswered letters, Cave Art Press writer and researcher, Lisa Wright, discovered a series of video interviews produced by Newsweek magazine, featuring Frank Pratt discussing his diaries and his time in prison camp. We were able to locate Rebecca, who divides her time between New York City and her family home in Blanchard, Washington. Within a couple of weeks, she was in our office discussing expansion and reissuance of her father’s book. Rebecca had not even known of the diaries existence until 1994, after her father had been invited by the Polish government to its embassy in Washington, DC, where he was honored for his war efforts.
Seeing the homemade diaries of cigarette packages stitched together between pieces of cardboard lying on our table made us feel like we’d found the Holy Grail of documented POW existence.
Being hungry is strange. I imagine most of it is psychological, but there is still a lot of it that “isn’t”. The funny thing is that everybody’s thoughts seem to be of something to eat, and we punish ourselves by sitting around in the dark and talking about choice dishes we used to like, and what we’d pay to be able to eat some of those now. To me it becomes almost unbearable at times, and I was never much of an eater. I can’t imagine what hunger must do to a gourmet?—Frank Pratt, POW
Soon after the meeting, our editor and writer, Arlene Cook, set about the task of reorganizing the material and adding details of war events that occurred during the time the diaries were written. This book now includes Frank Pratt’s complete diaries and his wartime photos, as well as the photos of the actual cigarette packages on which the diaries were written.
The Cigarette Diaries: A Personal History of Life in a WWII Prison Camp, by Frank Pratt, has just been released. You can purchase copies directly from our website, from you local bookstore, or on Amazon.