Based on true events, this beautifully rendered novel from the author of Schindler's List and The Daughters of Mars brilliantly explores a World War II prison camp where Japanese prisoners resolve to take drastic action to wipe away their shame.
Alice is a young woman living on her father-in-law's farm on the edge of an Australian country town while her husband is held prisoner in Europe. When Giancarlo, an Italian anarchist at the prisoner-of-war camp down the road, is assigned to work on the farm, she hopes that being kind to him will somehow influence her husband's treatment. What she doesn't anticipate is how dramatically Giancarlo will expand her outlook and self-knowledge.
But what most challenges Alice and her fellow townspeople is the utter foreignness of 1,000-plus Japanese inmates and their culture, which the camp commanders fatally misread. Mortified by being taken alive in battle and preferring a violent death to the shame of living, they plan an outbreak, to shattering and far-reaching effects on all the citizens around them.
In a career spanning half a century, Thomas Keneally has proved a master at exploring ordinary lives caught up in extraordinary events. With this profoundly gripping and thought-provoking novel, inspired by a notorious incident in New South Wales in 1944, he once again shows why he is celebrated as a writer who "looks into the heart of the human condition with a piercing intelligence that few can match" (Sunday Telegraph).
©2013 The Serpentine Publishing Company Pty Ltd. (P)2013 Simon and Schuster
I feel darn brutal giving this book only one star, but I did not like it.
It is a book of historical fiction which parallels the Cowra Breakout. In August 1944 over a thousand Japanese prisoners of war escaped from an internment camp located near Cowra, a small farming community in New South Wales, about 300 km west of Sydney. There is an adequate epilogue that explains what is fact and what is fiction. So if you are curious about the event maybe you want to read this book.
Some events described are violent. Just a word of warning.
Doesn’t everybody know how the Japanese feel about the shame of surviving war? This is a central topic of the book. Another theme concerns how people may feel obligated to treat prisoners of war justly so that their own prisoners of war will be treated well too. This I found terribly far-fetched, at least how it is presented in this book.
Along with the events of the breakout are fictional love relationships which in my mind are told crudely. They feel as padding to the main story. And so predictable.
The breakout is “exciting” but the lead up takes forever. Remember that padding – it doesn’t draw you in.
I don't like the author's choice of words. This is the central problem I had with the book. Over and over again I thought what a strange way the author had of expressing the events – both what happens and the individuals' thoughts. Too complicated. Strange words used when what is to be said could have been so simply stated.
OK, here is one insignificant example: "She opened the oven and was inspecting the lamb and probing it with a fork when the telephone rang. Fork in rigid hand, she immediately suspended her inquiry into the condition of the meat......" What is it with “suspended her inquiry”? I mean you could more simply say: she poked the meat, and then the telephone rang. Strange language! Not All the lines are strange but so many that you take note. It drove me crazy.
The audiobook is narrated by a man and a woman Heather Bolton and Paul English. This is because the story flips back and forth between a woman on a farm and the internment camp. The narration is good.
Why do you read historical fiction? To teach history by folding the events into an entertaining, engrossing story. Well I didn't get that here.
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