Thursday Book Feature: A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice

By Nevil Shute

Copyright 1950.

 

Jeanne, a young English woman, is taken prisoner by the Japanese in Malaya during World War II. She and other women and children are marched across Malaya from one village to another. One Japanese commander after another refuses to take responsibility for them and sends them on their way. This goes on for over six months. Under-nourished and receiving little medical attention, fraught with illness, half of them die but not Jeanne.

Along the way, the women are befriended by two Australian soldiers, also prisoners. One of them, Joe, steals several chickens from a nearby Japanese officer’s home in order to feed them. When the Japanese find out, they crucify him and force the women and children to watch, then move on.

Months later, in another village, with the Japanese guard escorting the women dead after an illness, they’re left to their own devices. They work in the village’s rice paddies to support themselves for the next three years until the war ends.

Years later, back in England, Jeanne receives a sizable inheritance from a deceased uncle. Armed with sufficient funds, she returns to the village in Malaya where she and the other women worked in the rice paddies. In gratitude to the villagers for supporting her and the other women during the war, she has a well built in the center of town to make life easier for the women of the village since there is no running water.

She then finds out that Joe survived his ordeal at the hands of the Japanese and travels to Australia to find him. Fate brings them together, and she starts a new life in the outback.

This story is told, in part, by the lawyer in England who manages the trust fund Jeanne’s uncle set up for her in the event of his death. The lawyer relates Jeanne’s story, as she tells it to him in person and through her letters.

In a way, this book reminded me of a memoir I read a couple of years ago. Unbroken is the story of Olympic track star Louis Zamperini’s life in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. At one point while Jeanne and the other women are marching across Malaya under Japanese guard, she wonders if life would be better in a camp. If she knew what was happening to Zamperini, probably at about the same time…

At the end of the book, the author includes a note in which he explains that during World War II, the Japanese marched a group of women and children across Sumatra, not Malaya. Why, then, did he set that part of the story in Malaya? He should have explained his reason for re-inventing history. Otherwise, if I were Australian, and you were to ask me if this was a good book, I would say, “Oh my word!”

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

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Novel Depicts Survival at Sea

Abbie-1

Life of Pi

By Yann Martel

Copyright 2001

 

Pi is a boy growing up in India, the son of a zookeeper. In the 1970’s, when he’s sixteen years old, he and his family, in an attempt to start a new life, set sail for Canada on a cargo ship containing several animals from their zoo. The ship sinks. Pi’s father, mother, and older brother parish. He ends up on a life boat with a zebra, hyena, monkey, and tiger. The hyena kills the zebra and the monkey, and the tiger kills the hyena. Then, it’s just Pi and the tiger, who both survive the ordeal.

This book provides a lot of detail in the beginning about Pi’s life growing up in India including how he gets his name. Therefore, I would like to have known more about his life after he survives being shipwrecked.

All we know is that after a little over seven months at sea, during which time they spend a few weeks on a deserted island, Pi and the tiger end up in Mexico. The tiger wanders into a nearby forest and is never seen again. Pi is found and taken to a hospital where Japanese officials from the shipping company question him about why the ship sank. He eventually moves to Canada and attends a university, but what career path does he take?

He later tells his story to an insignificant other, who undertakes some of the narration. Who is this person?

Before the accident, Pi, as a teenager, dabbles in the Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religions. How has his harrowing adventure at sea affected his faith? Which religion does he practice once settled in Canada, or does he do all three like he did in India, or has he become disillusioned with God?

Before Pi is shipwrecked, he’s a vegetarian. Once stranded on that life boat in the middle of the ocean, he realizes that in order to survive, he must eat meat: fish, turtles, and even the meerkats he finds on the deserted island. After his return to civilization, does he go back to eating strictly vegetables, or does he realize that meat isn’t so bad, especially since it kept him alive for over seven months?

Perhaps these questions can be discussed by reading groups. In any case, Life of Pi is a remarkable story of courage in the face of adversity with a theme of survival of the fittest.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.