Based on a little-known true story, from award-winning author Siobhan Daiko comes a tale of love and survival against all the odds set in Hong Kong at the start of the Pacific War.
In the spring of 1939, dashing young William Burton and the beautiful Constance Han set sail from London on the same ocean liner to Hong Kong.
Romance blossoms while they enjoy games of deck quoits and spend sultry tropical evenings dancing under the stars. Connie is intrigued by Will’s talent for writing poetry, and she offers to give him Cantonese lessons to help him with his new job— a cadet in the colonial service.
But once in Hong Kong, Connie is constrained by filial duty towards her Eurasian parents, and their wish for her to marry someone from her own background. She can’t forget Will, however, and arranges to meet him in secret under the magnificent canopy of a flame of the forest tree— where she fulfils her promise to teach him to speak Chinese.
Before too long, trouble looms as Japanese forces gather on the border between Hong Kong and mainland China. Will joins a commando group tasked with operating behind enemy lines, and Connie becomes involved in the fight against local fifth columnists.
When war breaks out, they find themselves drawn into a wider conflict than their battle against prejudice. Can they survive and achieve a future together? Or do forces beyond their control keep them forever apart?
The Flame Tree is both a love story against the background of cultural divisions and a tale of true heroism in war-torn Hong Kong. Connie Han, the daughter of a wealthy Eurasian with strict beliefs about proper behaviour meets Will Burton on his way to his first job in the Colonial Office. On board they become good friends, but she warns him that just as she must not be seen in public socialising with a European, he would also be criticised if he sought out an Oriental lady friend. But they both have difficulty denying their feelings, so they meet up once a week in the Botanical Gardens.
Two years later the Japanese army are approaching Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland. William is part of the Z force, volunteers who have been trained in sabotage techniques, while Connie is working as a secretary for a renowned Chinese Admiral who is acting as a go-between for the British authorities’ negotiations with the Chinese government and the local Triad gang leaders. But a disastrous attempt at escape to China, as Hong Kong falls, brings danger and tragedy. Based on true events at the time a thrilling adventure ensues.
Having visited Hong Kong many times from 1967 until 2013 I particularly liked identifying with familiar locations mentioned in the book and the sites, sounds and smells are realistically described. The wartime events are shocking but it is important not to forget those who suffered at that time. However the novel ends on a note of hope for a better future for those who survived. A real page-turner.
The Flame Tree on Amazon UK
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