John Hoyte, Persistence of Light (Santa Fe: Terra Nova Books, 2018), 213pp.
It is a pleasure and a privilege for me to review this memoir by my friend John Hoyte (born 1932), whom I have deeply admired since we first met over twenty years ago. When I finished his book, I was reminded that no one gets to choose the three most formidable influences on their life — nature, nurture or family, and culture, but that in playing the cards that have been dealt to us, and in the mystery of history, every person has a story to tell. John's story just happens to be unusally interesting.
John's father was a British-trained surgeon who went out to China as a medical missionary in 1913. In the early 1930s he moved his family to the seaside town of Chefoo, where John and his five siblings were enrolled in boarding school. His parents later moved 1300 miles away to Lanchow, leaving behind their six kids, as was the missionary custom in those days. It proved to be a fateful choice. The six siblings were orphaned for five years at the outbreak of World War II and interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp for almost four years. John was eight years old. Food was scarce. Conditions were primitive. The camp was secured by search lights, guard towers, and guard dogs. Roll call was twice a day. Worst of all, it was in the prison camp that John learned that his mother has died of typhus in far away Lanchow.
John was thirteen when he reunited with his father and returned to England and "the strange world of English society," eventually matriculating at St. John's College at Cambridge University. It was at Cambridge in 1959 that John assembled a team of nine friends, and an elephant named Jumbo, to retrace the steps of the general Hannibal, who in the year 218 BC crossed the Alps with thirty thousand troops and thirty-seven elephants to battle Rome. Their 150-mile expedition received world wide press, including a spread in Life Magazine.
Four months later, John moved to California's Silicon Valley, where he worked for a little company called Hewlett Packard. Six years after that, in 1966, he started his own optical, instrument company called Spectrex, which he led for fifty years before selling it to his employees. Marriage, children, cancer, remarriage, and a blended family all followed. Through it all, John discovers the "persistence of light," for he interprets his story through Issac Newton's seven colors of the rainbow. Indeed, as he writes, "each color is unique and beautiful" in its own way.