Will keeping the Japanese, Korean and Italian POWs of the Second World War alive in Australia keep Australian POWs alive and well wherever they are?
In the spirit of The Daughters of Mars, Tom Keneally’s new novel brilliantly explores the intimacies of ordinary lives being played out against momentous world events.
In Gawell, New South Wales, a prisoner-of-war camp to house European, Korean and Japanese captives is built close to a farming community. Alice is a young woman living a dull life with her father-in-law on his farm while her new husband first fights, then is taken prisoner, in Greece. When Giancarlo, an Italian POW and anarchist from Gawell’s camp, is assigned to work on their farm, Alice’s view of the world and her self-knowledge are dramatically expanded.
But what most challenges Alice and the town is the foreignness of the Japanese compound and its culture, entirely perplexing to the inmates’ captors. Driven by a desperate need to validate the funerals already held for them in Japan, the prisoners vote to take part in an outbreak, and the bloodshed and chaos this precipitates shatter the certainties and safeties of all who inhabit the region.