After hearing Ann Bennett’s reasons for writing her Bamboo Trilogy, I found myself particularly drawn to the second book, Bamboo Island, because it described the period of history, during the second world war, when all society in Singapore and Malaya was turned completely upside down in a tragic, life-changing manner. The book moves between the late 1930s/ early 1940s when Juliet and Rose arrived in Penang to stay with their aunt and uncle and the early 1960s when Mary, a young nurse, arrives at the remote rubber plantation which Juliet is running in northern Malaysia.
The events leading up to and during the war, are described in the first person by Juliet, so that we experience her sadness and horror at events beyond her control, while the story of Mary and Juliet in the 1960s is in the third person, enabling Juliet to keep her secrets and maintain a distance from her companion. This is a story of love, passion and cruelty in an outdated society but it is also the story of major conflict and dreadful acts which we should never forget.
The detailed account of Juliet’s survival in occupied Singapore is fascinating, as it reflects the experiences of all the races who lived on the island more than any other book I have read about the conflict. The travels in 1960s Indonesia are both interesting in showing a simple unspoilt society and in describing how they dealt with invasion 20 years earlier.
This was a story I could not put down, as I needed to discover Juliet’s secrets and what had happened to the other characters in the book and now I will turn to Bamboo Heart, the first book in the series.