by Michaela Gordoni
Chasing the Daylight by Joanna Rakowski is a captivating memoir which provides a unique insight into the life of a dainty ballerina turned army interrogator.
The book takes the reader on a journey through Joanna's adult life in Poland, where she trained as a ballerina, and later in the U.S. Army, where she served as an interrogator. Her story is one of grit, determination, and self-transformation... Joanna Rakowski's writing is surprisingly well-written, well-edited, and very well-organized, which sets it apart from many other autobiographies in today’s book market. The inclusion of photographs throughout the book adds interest and credibility to her written life history. It is fascinating to learn how someone who was once a delicate ballerina became a hard-core army interrogator. Joanna's story is a testament to the fact that one's career path can take unexpected turns, and it's never too late to pursue your dreams... goals. Her story is a source of inspiration to anyone who has faced hard obstacles in their lives. Throughout the book, Joanna alternates passages about her experiences in the Army with memories of a special friendship she had with her former French professor and long-time crush, and letters to her husband, Alec. These personal touches expertly add depth and emotion to her story and makes it more relatable to the reader. The ending of Joanna's story is the most poignant part of the book.... it is evident being in the army gave her a positive, life-changing experience leading to her self-transformation, and it is definitely worth reading about.
Overall, Chasing the Daylight is a remarkable memoir which offers readers a unique perspective on one immigrant’s experience in America and the US Army. Joanna's story is one of perseverance, resilience, and self-discovery. It shows with hard work and determination, anything is possible. This is a book which will certainly be of interest to anyone with a penchant for memoirs, or who is simply interested in learning more about the lives of service members.
by Grant Leishman
Chasing the Daylight pulls no punches and tells it exactly like it is. Author JoAnna Rakowski describes in vivid detail the mental, emotional, and immense physical effort required to achieve success in the Army training courses...
I liked that she also threw light on the pressures on a marriage that a member of the armed forces experiences What I enjoyed most about this memoir was the thoughtful, selfreflection the author went through in discovering herself and her purpose. Although she was frequently extremely hard on herself mentally, it was clear that those that mattered in the process, the trainers, were generally exceedingly impressed by this woman’s abilities. This is a solid read and finding out the nuts and bolts of military service is something I enjoyed immensely. I can highly recommend this read.
by Jack Chambers
In author Joanna Rakowski’s Chasing the Daylight: One Woman’s Journey to Becoming a U.S. Army Intelligence Officer, is a memorable journey of one woman as she forgoes the preconceived idea of men going to war by showcasing a story of strength, courage, and determination....
The author did a wonderful job of capturing the hard work and determination the path of those in the military must follow. The attention to detail the author gave to every step of the process, really drew me into her story and made for a relatable and memorable atmosphere... The balance of personal storytelling on the author’s part with the information gives readers a better idea of what life in the military is really like making this such a compelling book. The thing which really stood out was the author’s writing style, which is so inviting and gives the readers a blend of first-person narratives with more intimate “conversations” in her letters to loved ones, and the almost cinematic delivery of the experiences she had during her career. This is a must-read book for those who enjoy non-fiction reads, especially those who enjoy memoirs and biographies, and non-fiction books about the military and military life... The unique perspective she brought to this subject was not only informative, but highlighted the emotional and physical toll this line of work has on people overall, especially the unique perspective of an intelligence officer. Informative, engaging, and insightful, author Joanna Rakowski’s Chasing the Daylight is a must-read non-fiction memoir on military life and pursuing a career as an intelligence officer. The honesty and detailed way the author approached her story and the enlightening nature of not only her life personally, but the experiences of so many within the United States military was eye opening and really kept me invested as her story progressed.
by Joshua Farrington
A Polish immigrant recalls her experiences in the U.S. Army in this debut memoir.
A professionally trained ballerina who practiced dance full time for nearly 15 years in Poland, Rakowski notes that she “practically lived at the Great Opera in Warsaw” for more than a decade. After immigrating to the United States in 1995, however, she could only find work teaching ballet at a local YMCA. Four years later, she ran into a U.S. Army Recruitment table while enrolled in college courses. She decided to “change and reinvent myself from a fragile ballerina to a hardcore U.S. Army intelligence officer.” The book touches on her life in Poland and her adaptation to American culture, but it focuses primarily on Rakowski’s four years in the military, from basic training to an overseas deployment in Europe. She served as a post–September 11 interrogator, linguist, and intelligence analyst and writes, “Even though I had never seen the battlefield, I was still a hero.” While proud of her service, Rakowski doesn’t shy away from the “heartache and loneliness” of military life and the realization that “deep down in my heart, I was still this fragile ballerina.” Like many veterans, she laughs at the paradoxes and bureaucracy of military life. Women, she recalls, were never called “soldiers”; they were referred to as “ladies,” even when outshining their male colleagues. Also emphasized is the way the military impacted her personal life. (...) Rakowski doesn’t shy away from the personal. Nevertheless, this is a well-written, intimate account that breaks the norms of war memoir in its focus on the sacrifices of soldiers who never step foot onto a battlefield. It’s also an important reminder of the centrality of immigrants to the U.S. military in the modern era.
A poignant story of an immigrant’s experiences in the U.S. Army
by Sue Magee
[The cover] is mpressive. The contrast between the ballet shoes and the boots grabs the attention. The sub-title: One Woman’s Journey to Becoming a U.S. Army Intelligence Officer tells me that the book is going to appeal to my particular areas of interest. It says that most things are possible.
... The largest section of the book – army training and service – was riveting. I read late into the night, needing to find out what happened. Phrasing was good and the reading was easy.
by Priscilla Estes
From basic training to officer candidate school to military intelligence education to overseas positions, Rakowski shares the highs and lows of becoming a female U.S. Army intelligence officer... Atmospheric writing blends with vivid interior emotions to create a roller-coaster ride that mingles pride, fear, doubt, joy, humor, and sheer determination...
Rakowski’s narrative is studded with specificity, breathing life into the author’s grueling, self-selected search to be part of something bigger than herself...
From crawling through a trench under a barrage of low-flying ammunition to feeling the hand of death in simulations too close to reality, Rakowski gives readers a look into a world seldom seen. Rakowski shares vulnerability best when pitting fear of failure against the push to excel, involving the reader in the heart of tumultuous decisions: stay or run away; give in to depression, loneliness, and fatigue or push through to euphoria. Especially uplighting are the passages where her steely determination, shored up by the faith and support from her colleagues, helps Rakowski find her inner strength. Rakowski paints a vivid, detailed portrait of the mental, physical, and emotional challenges she faced in becoming a U.S. Army intelligence officer, and the reward of being part of “something bigger than myself.” Her inspiring tale is not to be missed.
Rakowski debuts with a vivid portrait of the strength and persistence it took, at age 31 and with uncertain English, to enlist in the National Guard in September, 2000, succeed in basic and officer training, and become an intelligence officer...
In direct but often richly emotional prose, Chasing the Daylight recounts the day-to-day challenges of transformation, as Rakowski faces the rigors of training, the trials of being paired with less dedicated members of her cohort (...) bureaucratic misunderstandings of how to get the most out of ESL recruits, and the loneliness of separation.
She also sets above-and-beyond tests for herself, like winning the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge, which demands grueling physical training—all despite a tendency toward heatstroke. The account is arresting—her English is polished and touched with an original sense of idiom—with jolts of surprising detail, such as military pageantry reminding her of her beloved Great Opera in Warsaw...
Still, this week-by-week narrative’s driven by Rakowski’s in-the-moment striving, and readers should not expect the tidy lessons and reflective triumphs of commercial memoirs, as Rakowski, a trouper, sees the world as it is—and is always ready to change with what it throws at her.
Takeaway: Tough-minded, inspiring account of a Polish immigrant’s U.S. military training.
U.S. Army veteran Joanna Rakowski’s memoir of training to become an intelligence officer in the early 2000s presents a deeply felt case study in perseverance and determined self-transformation...
What makes Rakowski’s story especially compelling is that she transformed herself on several different fronts. Born in Communist Poland, she immigrated in the mid-’90s and embraced her new life as an American. And, prior to becoming a “hard-core” soldier, she was a ballerina in Warsaw, intensely identifying with the popular image of her avocation as “fragile, sensitive, and ethereal.”... the book is mostly given over to Army training in all its grueling particulars, both physical and psychological. Her journey takes her from basic training, through learning the specialized role of HUMINT (Human Intelligence Collector), to passing OCS (Officer Candidate School), where she learns to not just receive but also give orders... She’s steadfastly proud of being part of the U.S. Army’s ethos and history, and in her accomplishments in it (fellow soldiers dub Rakowski “Lieutenant Magic”). Her account conveys the rigors of countless marches, drills and push-ups, and the demands of a distinctive culture built on elaborate protocols of deference and respect. Intriguingly, she finds some common ground between this life and ballet (mostly, in terms of the intense physical demands.)
...others who have served may find Rakowski’s experiences resonate with theirs, and the loved ones of young men or women considering doing the same should find her words instructive and revealing.
by Michele Sharpe
Written by a former ballerina and trained linguist, the memoir Chasing the Light covers an unpredictable military rise.
Rakowski, a Polish immigrant whose patriotic attachment to the US motivated her to join the military, joined the National Guard when she was thirty-one. Although qualified to enlist as an officer, she decided to start at the bottom and work her way up...
Two related themes dominate the book: that physical prowess builds self-confidence, and that the mastery of languages (including colloquialisms) leads to a sense of identity and belonging. Scenes from Rakowski’s army life, including of basic training hardships and of following orders later on, are compelling because of their authoritative details. Rakowski recalls being pushed to her physical limits during strength and endurance challenges. She communicates her emotions and experiences in evocative figurative language: a final basic training exercise is “a factory of courage and determination” that pumped out toughened recruits. The book gets off to a fitful start, however. For example, the opening chapter makes mention of two people, Alec and Chris, without initially disclosing Rakowski’s relationship to either. Alec is later identified as her husband; Chris, later still, is identified as her university professor in Poland. Once the identifications have been made, Rakowski’s relationships with Alec and Chris are juxtaposed to the main story of her army life with more success. Thereafter, there are more straightforward transitions between scenes, accomplished through letters home to Alec and flashbacks to Rakowski’s university days, which help to keep the names, locations, and time periods clear.
Still, while the book’s three narrative threads (related to Rakowski’s military career, her marriage to Alec, and her work with her professor) come close to each other at numerous points in the book, their particular elements are nonetheless compartmentalized. At times, the book reads like three separate memoirs.
by Tomi Alo
From ballerina to soldier, experience the bittersweet journey of a woman as she finds the courage to chase her dreams. Joanna Rakowski’s debut memoir, Chasing the Daylight, sparks a will in its reader to keep pushing and chasing their dreams. The book is a detailed account of her journey to becoming a Military Intelligence Officer.
Divided into eight parts, the book covers most of her military training right from the point of her enlistment into the army to the end of her training as a military officer. Through Joanna’s reflections and encounters, we gain insight into themes such as courage, strength, leaping into the unknown, perseverance, self-reflection, hope, dedication, and fighting for what you want. Chasing the Daylight is a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the pursuit of one's dreams. ...what stood out to me the most was Joanna’s will to succeed and her courage to go after what she wanted. To still have hope, will, and strength on a completely new and different journey is never easy. Many people don’t like change and are scared of the unknown. Many end up being stuck in the endless cycle of what-ifs, feeling unfulfilled and defeated.
I loved how Joanna didn’t succumb to this mindset, despite her failures and setbacks. I am happy she was brave enough to pursue a completely different life outside the one she has always known. Finding hope and drawing strength from the smallest things, even while unsure and uncertain about what tomorrow would bring.
“It was my first “military sunrise”. I wondered how often I would be able to see them. Would they bring me hope in moments of loss and despair? For now, however, this sunrise symbolized the rising of my will. The will to succeed.”
It’s easy to get absorbed in Joanna’s story and feel her losses and wins with her. Her writing style is calm, like reading a journal, and it’s never stressful or overwhelming. I’m inspired by how Joanna slowly but steadily made waves in the military space, achieving one small victory after another. I was silently rooting for her and happy with each achievement. What an amazing, bittersweet journey. This memoir is a captivating and inspiring experience that leaves a lasting impression.
“Even though I had never seen the battlefield, I was still a hero. I had the courage to pursue my dream as far as it would take me. I had the courage to change and reinvent myself, from a fragile ballerina to a hard-core U.S. Army intelligence officer. And now, I would have the courage to change again.”
I would recommend Chasing the Daylight to anyone seeking a reminder that anything is possible with determination and perseverance and to those who would use the book as a form of inspiration to keep chasing their dreams.
by Diane Donovan
Chasing the Daylight: One Woman’s Journey to Becoming a U.S. Army Intelligence Officer is a memoir about a ballerina's entry into the military. There, she becomes an intelligence officer and pursues her dream despite barriers from physical challenges, discrimination, and ghosts of her past.
Other books about women entering the military have covered some of these topics, but what makes Joanna Rakowski's story especially compelling is its focus not just on rigorous army training and life, but how trust and confidence develops between officers and soldiers as training develops. (...) women who are also considering military service will find Rakowski's experiences to be candid, thought-provoking, and revealing. It captures the realities of women in the military who follow an upward-bound career momentum in ways other women in military service don't strive to accomplish.
Perhaps this memoir's strength is because these experiences come couched in an analysis of military culture that is powered by lessons Rakowski learns along the way: “You know, you are only as good as the people around you. Surround yourself with good people. Don’t take anything for granted.” As she receives, absorbs, and reflects good advice and difficult experiences, Rakowski evolves and grows and, thanks to her military service, in turn creates a memoir replete with changes, transformations, and realizations about life within and outside the military.
Chasing the Daylight is eye-opening and captivating. Libraries and readers interested in accounts of women in service who hold officer positions and training that leads them to be all they can be both within the army and in civilian life will find it involving and hard to put down:
"Sometimes, you revisit a familiar place yet find no comfort. Like with the river, you come back to the same spot cherished all those years ago, but the water is now replaced by a fresh stream. A patch of grass turned into a pile of sand. The small tree by the edge grew exponentially. The big rock by the bend is now polished by the patient water. A little bridge had collapsed and appears abandoned in the background. That’s how I felt in Fort Huachuca. I had to relearn how to love it, re-engage in it, and to call it home again."
by Beatrice Toothman
Chasing the Daylight is for anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming a part of something bigger than themselves...
Told in an intricately detailed memoir style, this book starts at the beginning of Joanna’s military experience with shipping off to boot camp and follows the intrepid author through some of the most gratifying and excruciating challenges a person can face while serving in the armed forces. From near misses with heat strokes after grueling hikes through desert terrain to tests of psychological endurance when all the training in the world can’t combat the all-encompassing experience of loneliness; Joanna’s story nearly runs the entire gamut of the human condition on her quest to become an officer.
With flashbacks to her life in Poland sprinkled throughout, along with reflections on some of her more difficult personal and professional encounters, Joanna invites readers to share the whole of her adventure; the good, the bad, and everything in between. The passion for her adopted country practically oozes off the pages, and it’s the author’s wholehearted belief in her American dream more than any fast-paced action that keeps you turning the pages. I’ve read a lot of memoirs lately, and it’s seldom that you find one with an author this earnestly likable.
Regardless of how you feel about the US as a country or any of its military organizations, Joanna’s enthusiasm and hope for her career and what becoming a member of the US military means to her are so heartfelt and honestly written that it isn’t difficult to overcome your own reservations and simply enjoy a novel about a fiercely optimistic and driven woman achieving her dreams...
If you’re looking for a memoir written with passion, grit, and not a small amount of feminine power, this one should be at the top of your TBR.
4 stars: Reviewer liked and would recommend the book to friends/family.
by IR Staff
Joanna Rakowski’s memoir CHASING THE DAYLIGHT details the author’s journey from ballerina to battalion solider, after she emigrated from her native Poland to the United States with her American husband. Rakowski details the challenges in the different levels of basic training, and, later, in Officer Candidate School, and how they affected her physically, psychologically, and emotionally. In addition to learning military terminology in English, she also faced misogyny and the discrimination so many of her fellow ESL recruits faced. How she handled it all, where she triumphed, where she fell short and regrouped to try again, makes an engrossing tale.