Author: Boyd Anderson
Publisher: Random House
copy courtesy of the publisher via netgalley
It is 1941 Singapore, and the Japanese invasion is looming. A young, shallow, seventeen year-old, Victoria Khoo is preparing to be re-united with Sebastian Boustead. Sebastian has been studying in Cambridge, England and is returning home for the first time in a year. Victoria in is love with Sebastian and believes it is her destiny to marry him. Unfortunately for Victoria, Sebastian has brought his fiancée, Elizabeth with him. At Sebastian’s engagement party, Victoria meets Joe Spencer, a laid-back Australian who has come to Singapore as an exporter.
When the Japanese begin bombing Singapore, Victoria’s world is turned upside-down. While her family moves to Johore, away from immediate danger, Victoria stays behind in Singapore with her father’s second wife, and looks after her grandmother.
Victoria is obsessed with the English way of life – she is constantly reading Manners for Women, a manual of etiquette. I found it interesting that many Chinese people living in Singapore during the Second World War considered themselves to be more English than Chinese. Victoria and her siblings attended English schools, spoke English at home, and dressed in the English fashions of the day. The one instance where they didn’t feel English was the fact that their father had three wives – as was the Chinese custom.
I have read a lot of books set during World War Two, but most have been set in Germany or England. This is the first one I’ve read that has been set in Singapore so I was very interested to read about the Japanese occupation of Singapore.
Victoria is a self-centred young girl who is forced to grow up quickly and use all of her resourcefulness to survive. I was often frustrated with her character. About two-thirds of the way through the book I thought she would come to her senses, forget about Sebastian, and fall in love with Joe, and while there is a love triangle for most of the book, she can never really move past Sebastian. I loved the character of Joe with his laid-back air and his sarcastic humour. He and Victoria end up going through so much of the war together, and I was really pulling for them as a couple. Alas, without giving too much away, I was quietly devastated by the ending. The romantic in me wanted the epic fairytale!
On another note, the cover is gorgeous, and definitely highlights the exotic location of the story. This was a terrific story and I recommend it for anyone interested in historical fiction, particularly that set during World War Two