Due to time restraints while I work on my own novel, reviews on this site will now comprise a book blurb and a short response.
History shown through the gentle, softening eyes of love – that’s what to expect with Anita Heiss’s latest read, Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms. Here’s the blurb:
Over 1000 Japanese soldiers break out of the No.12 Prisoner of War compound on the fringes of Cowra. In the carnage, hundreds are killed, many are recaptured, and some take their own lives rather than suffer the humiliation of ongoing defeat.
But one soldier, Hiroshi, manages to escape.
At nearby Erambie Station, an Aboriginal mission, Banjo Williams, father of five and proud man of his community, discovers Hiroshi, distraught and on the run. Unlike most of the townsfolk who dislike and distrust the Japanese, the people of Erambie choose compassion and offer Hiroshi refuge. Mary, Banjo’s daughter, is intrigued by the softly spoken stranger, and charged with his care.
For the community, life at Erambie is one of restriction and exclusion – living under Acts of Protection and Assimilation, and always under the ruthless eye of the mission Manager. On top of wartime hardships, families live without basic rights.
Love blossoms between Mary and Hiroshi, and they each dream of a future together. But how long can Hiroshi be hidden safely and their bond kept a secret?
A slow, tender novel that focuses on events following the Cowra Breakout in NSW in 1944, Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is about love, crossing boundaries, and home. Hiroshi and Mary’s story unfolds against the background of genuine fear and ignorance, racial fear-mongering and the White Australia policy, and resentment and bitterness. These were tough enough times for Hiroshi and Mary without cupid’s arrow entering the field.
I had little knowledge of the Cowra breakout before this book, so the historical events were of great interest to me. It’s easy in hindsight to be angry about how things were handled at the time, from the breakout itself to equally disturbing actions like interning Italians, restricting Indigenous peoples’ rights, and the White Australia policy itself. Yet, I’m not sure that anger is what Anita Heiss wants (forgive me, Anita if I am wrong here). I think she wants readers like me to become more aware of how history has been recorded, and some of the deeper, buried truths that need uncovering, understanding, recognition and change.
Above all, this is a love story, and leaving history aside, the story is beautifully rendered and had me in tears by the end.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.