Sceptre £18.99

Shame and the Captives By Thomas Keneally - book review

Thomas Keneally has said in the past, “nearly all my books ... concern themselves with incomprehension across racial and cultural borders”. He has written about tensions between Aborigines and white Australians; felons in a South Pacific penal colony; the depletion of the Irish population through famine, emigration and transportation; the priesthood; both World Wars, and much else. Schindler’s Ark won the Booker Prize and was made into the film Schindler’s List, and he has been short-listed without winning on three other occasions.

His thirtieth book is a fictionalised account of a real-life event, the outbreak in 1944 of Japanese prisoners of war from a PoW camp in New South Wales. The event was remarkable for the motives behind it: unlike the Italian PoWs held in separate camps at the same centre, the Japanese largely believed that to survive the war as losers was a great dishonour, and that it would be preferable to die in battle. The twin aims were therefore to do harm to their enemy, who had treated them humanely, and, more importantly, to die while doing so.

Keneally flits between two settings, the PoW camp in the (fictional) town of Gawell and a nearby farm inhabited by Duncan Herman and his daughter-in-law, Alice.

Alice’s husband Neville is a PoW interned in Austria. As part of the war effort, PoWs from the camp in Gawell are sent to work on nearby farms, and Duncan accepts an Italian prisoner named Giancarlo. Alice finds herself drawn to this exotic man, so different physically to her absent husband. Meanwhile, in the prison camp, the reader is introduced to several different Japanese PoWs, and the background to their capture is drawn. The private lives of the camp commandant, Abercare, and of the commander of the main Japanese camp, Suttor, are also explored. Suttor has a son in a Japanese prison camp, and is terrified that any inadvertent harm to Japanese PoWs will reach the ears of the enemy and will result in the Japanese exacting vengeance on his son.

Some of the Japanese PoWs are haunted by memories of their conduct in China, where women were raped and civilians murdered gratuitously, and the Australian media feed this fear of the Japanese as “other”, provoking fear among civilians.

Keneally evokes the brisk pace of wartime life well while never losing sight of the private dreams of his characters. His writing is remarkably evocative, whether he is describing everyday occurrences (“gravel fell ... with chattering brevity”) or characters ([Nevski] “harboured that common Russian demeanour of intense and dolorous disinheritance”.)

The breakout is described with chilling efficiency, and we gain an insight into the minds of the Japanese so even if we don’t empathise with their desire for a glorious death, we can comprehend it.

The story also shows how the hands of the captors are sometimes as tied as those of the prisoners – as Keneally says, Suttor “was coming to the bitter awareness that the captors are prisoners too”.

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments