Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Historical Fiction – War Stories . . . reviewed by Suzanne

The Piano Teacher
by Janice Y.K. Lee
This is a stylistically conventional story, but very well told, about British and Chinese people in Hong Kong during WWII and about how they survive (or not) during the Japanese occupation. The story flips back and forth from the wartime setting to 1952 and ‘53 and the survivors of the war. Stories begin to be told about who did what during the war and accusations of collaboration rear their ugly heads. Several characters bridge both stories; the main one is Will Truelove (hmmm!), who after the war works as a chauffeur for Victor and Melody Chen. Before the war he was in love with Trudy Liang, a Eurasian woman who refused to evacuate before the Japanese arrived, and who has a tough time of it during the war. There's also a subplot about art treasures claimed by the Chinese and the British that were hidden during the war and that the Japanese command wanted to get their hands on. The novel reminds me of those '50s movies about doomed lovers in wartime that my mother used to love to watch and cry over. Janice Y.K. Lee's website.

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
Rennie Stroud is 14 and living in Ellis, Colorado, when the Japanese arrive. They're actually Japanese-Americans, but because they're deemed a "security risk" they are forced to live at the camp built for them in nearby Tallgrass. The Strouds are a close-knit, loving family and refuse to participate in the racism and hatred of their neighbors. Mr. Stroud hires some of the young men from the camp to harvest beets, a move that angers many of the townspeople. This is a heartwarming book about decent folks who do the right thing.

Life Class by Pat Barker
Pat Barker is the author of the Regeneration trilogy, which has become a modern classic about WWI. She returns to the Great War in this heartbreaking story (is there any story about WWI that is not heartbreaking?) about a group of young art students in London. Their hopeful lives are ripped apart by the war. Read the New York Times review.

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