The arrival of the Japanese army in 1942 marked the end of colonial life in Singapore. The pre-war round of parties, games of tennis and servants, disappeared overnight as the British women and children attempted to escape by ship, while their menfolk were unable to defend the island and were quickly imprisoned in Changi jail. Meanwhile many of the Chinese population were murdered or tortured.
Ten-year-old Sylvie has had a privileged life despite her mother’s coldness. Tutored by Virginia Chen, a Eurasian graduate in her late 20s, she is able to meet many other people in the multiracial city. When her father takes his family to the docks to board one of the last ships, an aerial attack causes confusion and she is left behind. Eventually finding Virginia, the two of them try to survive the rest of the war together.
This thrilling and very credible story relates the horror, comradeship and continuing racial tension. The deep friendship between Virginia and Sylvie helps them to endure the hunger and cruelty but peace threatens to divide them forever. There is a hint of romance for Virginia and we wonder whether Sylvie will ever see her beloved father again and there are some pleasing family connections to be discovered.
I have read many other books about the fall of Singapore, since so many true stories of endurance and suffering can be told, but this was a book I could not put down and the stratas of social behaviour and need for racial equality make it a novel worth reading in the 21st century.
Scatty and disorganised about most things except my writing and reading I drift through life in search of the next idea, the wonderful next story. I have been living this life for the last twenty years after a career in teaching up to degree level. I embraced teaching as a creative enterprise but was always a writer who happened to teach, publishing three books while I was still working as well as some short stories and journalism. After that I surrendered to the writing goddess and published a range of novels and short stories as well as the occasional article.
Oh, and I have a Master’s Degree in Education. Some of those insights thread through the novels too, I suppose.
I have written spasmodically about my life in my short volume A Life In Short Pieces, and in The Romancer: A Writer’s Tale.
I’m fascinated by creativity history, identity, imagination, equality and myth. Recently, on looking through my novels I realise that – although not with any conscious purpose – these themes seem to be threaded through my writing.
In the middle of my writing career I spent five years as Writer in Residence in a women’s prison. This was a life-changing experience for me – broadening my view, deepening my empathy and my understanding of the whole of society. One outcome of that experience was my novel Paulie’s Web This, while fictional, tells some truths about the varied lives of many of the interesting and wise women I met in prison.
The Long Journey Home is available here