Author: Hazel Gaynor
Due for release on 20th August, published by HarperCollins
Category: Historical Fiction, WWII, Book Review
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.
Hazel Gaynor has taken a unique slant on Second World War fiction with her latest novel, The Bird in the Bamboo Cage. It was inspired by true events which took place following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As with all her books, the factual subject matter gives the story depth, authenticity and realism.
The story begins at the China Inland Mission School, Chefoo in the Shantung Province and is told from the perspectives of ten year old Nancy, a pupil at the school, and Elspeth Kent, one of the teachers. This dual outlook from the two different ages works extremely well, fleshing out the characters even more, and adding detail.
It’s December 1941. The Japanese soldiers were already occupying Chefoo but following their declaration of war against America and Britain they arrived in force to take over the school. Lives were about to change drastically for over one hundred children and twelve staff, not to mention the Chinese staff at the school.
The low winter sun glinted against steel helmets and short swords that hung from belts. Khaki-coloured jodhpur-like trousers ballooned over the tops of glossy knee-high boots that stamped roughly across the fresh snow. I was too shocked to do anything but stare. It wasn’t the soldiers themselves that were so shocking — we’d seen them plenty of times before — it was the fact that they were here, in our school, trampling all over Wei Huan’s lovely flower beds.
Not too long afterwards, the staff and pupils were moved to another location in Chefoo where they tried to make the best of things. Just as they had managed to make the abandoned compound habitable and settled down to some semblance of normal life they were moved again. This time to Weihsien internment camp. They were going to need courage, and most of all each other, if they were to survive being seen as the enemy and enduring unimaginable hardships throughout the dark days of internment.
I love Hazel Gaynor’s wonderful storytelling and have enjoyed each book I’ve read. The Bird in the Bamboo Cage is no exception. It’s an evocatively poignant and compelling insight into a horrific period of history that encompasses many emotions including fear, sorrow, despair, brutality, hope and kindness. The teachers went to great lengths to put the children’s needs first and keep their spirits up as the years passed, despite their own suffering. It was incredible how they coped with the privations of being prisoners of war, and the courage and strength shown by both teachers, children and the other prisoners.
A beautifully crafted and memorable story, beginning and concluding with Nancy. Characters are well defined and realistic, it’s written with sensitivity and a deep understanding of events. Hazel Gaynor has done what she set out to do and brought a lesser known time in history to the forefront. The author’s note about the inspiration and research is well worth reading too.
About the Author
Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning New York Times, USA Today, Irish Times, and international bestselling author. Her 2014 debut THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME won the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award, A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was a 2015 WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY was shortlisted for the 2017 Irish Book Awards, and THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER was shortlisted for the 2019 HWA Gold Crown Award. LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS (co-written with Heather Webb) won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award. Their most recent collaboration is MEET ME IN MONACO. Hazel’s forthcoming historical novel, THE BIRD IN THE BAMBOO CAGE, set in China during WW2, will be published in the UK and Ireland in August 2020.