I was greatly saddened when I read the news in Manolo’s blog: Frank Ephraim, author of Escape to Manila, died last Sunday. He was laid to rest yesterday.
I had interviewed him by phone last year (or was it late in 2004?). When I found myself in Washington, DC, in May 2005, he was kind enough to agree to another interview, this time in his house in Maryland. He met me outside the Metro station, and drove me back after our talk, which lasted for more than an hour. He said he was looking forward to a Manila homecoming.
He was a gracious man, unfailingly polite. I could not begin to tell him his book, his experience, had transformed acquired memory (bits and pieces of World War II lore, movies about the Holocaust, black-and-white stills of Manila at the tailend of that innocent era called "peacetime") into a potent kind of reality. I was hoping the story I wanted to write would tell him that, and more. But it was not to be.
(Of Escape to Manila, he originally had much more modest aims. In his home, he had told me: "I first thought of, well, maybe, the best I can do is put together a small archive of heroes, stories, photos, artifacts …")
I took some photos.
Mind you, my borrowed digital camera had just about given up at around the time of the visit, so I was left with my trusty Nokia 6230, with its minuscule 0.3 megapixel camera. (I used the phone to record parts of our interview too; I just had to keep stopping before the three-minute window closed and start again.)
Frank, who survived both Nazi tyranny and Japanese terror, did not look it. He looked like — yes, that’s it — a writer, an everyday witness, in the rumpled-academic style of Teddy White.