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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate