Finnegan Found - Surviving the POW Camps on the Yalu
Updated: Nov 9
by John N. Powers
Finnegan Found tells the story of the American servicemen captured and held as POWs during the Korean War (1950-53). The novel focuses on a young Private, Paul Larson, known as ‘Swede’. Swede is a fictional character but his experiences are based on actual events, locations and accounts. Although the narrative is rooted in non-fiction, the book is essentially a story combining elements of espionage, thriller and suspense.
I thought Finnegan Found was a towering novel. I knew very little of this war and it’s obvious the POWs were abandoned collateral in a near-forgotten conflict. To have simply decided to recount their story would have been testament enough but the narrative that Mr Powers weaves in order that we may understand, self-educate and empathise is outstanding. Personally, Finnegan Found takes its place alongside the great war novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front. It is immediately readable; Swede is an enduring main character so brilliantly written that he effortlessly carries the book which is no mean feat as it is a long read. He is written with such authenticity, integrity and completeness that within his characterisation a small part of each one of those men captured is embedded. However, this is a story and Mr Powers employs every writing technique to ensure that it’s a gripping must-read from start to finish. We are pitched headlong into the fighting that leads to the initial capture of Swede. The battle scene is short and blisteringly visceral. There is a fairly large cast but focus remains on approximately ten major characters; all of whom are credible, well-crafted and provide conflict, twists, side-plots, humour and, at times, unimaginable suffering. Perspective often shifts between Swede and the other columns of men imprisoned elsewhere. It’s a good tactic, keeping the narrative fresh because the story is one of relentless degradation, adversity and brutality but Swede will not, does not, give up. From attempting the smallest of disruptions to camp life to all out assaults on camp routine, he digs (literally at times) into every reserve of mental and physical strength he possesses to keep himself and his colleagues alive. It was a thoughtful strategy to humanise the Chinese Colonel Li and towards the end, we have a chapter from the perspective of a Chinese guard, Jiao. I also liked the vignettes on other POWs such as Charlie and Earl Stoneman; the little touches such as Stoneman’s song were heartbreakingly poignant. It would have been tempting for the conclusion to have descended into a good guys/bad guys fight with everyone liberated and living happily ever after. Mr Powers’ ending is thought-provokingly realistic and the connection to the title (a re-occurring theme) was wryly clever.
I feel honoured to have read this book and privileged to have read it from the pen of Mr Powers. Not only from the education it has given me but for the simple fact it’s a brilliant novel; the quality of the writing and story-telling is second to none. I have no doubt that ‘Swede’ would have been proud his story was finally told by such a gifted and dedicated writer. Highly recommended. Buy from: