The Blurb (from Goodreads):
China, 1941. Elspeth Kent has fled an unhappy life in England for a teaching post at a missionary school in northern China. But when Japan declares war on the Allies and occupies the school, security and home comforts are replaced by privation, uncertainty and fear.
For ten-year-old Nancy Plummer and her school friends, now separated from their parents indefinitely, Miss Kent’s new Girl Guide patrol provides a precious reminder of home in a land where they are now the enemy.
Elspeth and her fellow teachers, and Nancy and her friends, need courage, friendship and fortitude as they pray for liberation. But worse is to come. Removed from the school, they face even greater uncertainty and danger at a Japanese internment camp, where cruelty and punishment reign.
Inspired by true events, this is an unforgettable read about a remarkable community faced with unimaginable hardship, and the life-changing bonds formed in a distant corner of a terrible war.
I have always loved books set during World War II, and read a lot of novels set during that harrowing and tumultuous time. Most of the books I read are set in Europe, but I’ve long been interested in books set in the Asia-Pacific arena where my own great-uncles fought – one of them was a prisoner-of-war in a Japanese camp and I was brought up on stories of his courage and suffering. I’ve even been thinking of writing a book set during that time. So I wanted to read The Bird in the Bamboo Cage as soon as I heard about it.
It is inspired by the true story of the British teachers and children of the Chefoo Missionary School in China who were interned by the Japanese following the bombing of Pearl Harbour. The author Hazel Gaynor heard the story on a podcast and knew at once she wanted to bring it to life. Her narrative is told in alternating chapters between Elspeth Kent, a teacher at the school, and one of her pupils, ten-year-old Nancy. Elspeth and the other teachers do their best to guard their young charges against the horrors of war, but as the school is moved into an internment camp to wait out the long years of the way, their courage and faith almost quails. The story is told in restrained and elegant prose, slowly building to a heartrending finale that had me choking back tears. A truly unforgettable story of the bravery and resilience of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation, it would make an astounding film. I hope someone makes it one day!