In the spirit of The Daughters of Mars, Tom Keneally’s new novel brilliantly explores the intimacies of ordinary lives being played out against momentous world events.
In Gawell, New South Wales, a prisoner-of-war camp to house European, Korean and Japanese captives is built close to a farming community. Alice is a young woman living a dull life with her father-in-law on his farm while her new husband first fights, then is taken prisoner, in Greece. When Giancarlo, an Italian POW and anarchist from Gawell’s camp, is assigned to work on their farm, Alice’s view of the world and her self-knowledge are dramatically expanded.
But what most challenges Alice and the town is the foreignness of the Japanese compound and its culture, entirely perplexing to the inmates’ captors. Driven by a desperate need to validate the funerals already held for them in Japan, the prisoners vote to take part in an outbreak, and the bloodshed and chaos this precipitates shatter the certainties and safeties of all who inhabit the region.
“Then he turns, with a virtuosity he has rarely matched, to giving us – through select, concentrated detail – a sense of the wider lives of the participants in this story, for all that our acquaintance with them is partial. Keneally’s gift, and his blessing to the many hundreds of characters he has created, is always to find the extraordinary within the ordinary. Each of them rises out of and above their varying backgrounds: the class, religion, ambition that mark but do not define them. The title of the novel, Shame and the Captives, has a deliberate ambiguity and a measure of awkwardness that makes us pause to consider the moral complexity of yet another of Keneally’s grand entertainments.” – Peter Pierce, The Australian
“He gives vivid human faces to the victims and the perpetrators of war. He weaves his magic and the reader falls under his spell. Keneally negotiates the separate and intertwining narratives with his usual elegance and skill.” – Carmel Bird, The Guardian
“At its most basic, Shame and the Captives is a retelling of the Cowra breakout. Something which was long overdue. But it is much more than that. Keneally cleverly (and effortlessly) divides his story into many sub stories and embeds his reader into each one. We mingle with Japanese POWs, hear their stories, feel their shame and share their frustrations; we are sent out to the farms as labourers with the Italian POWs; we wait out the war far from the frontlines with the British and Australian camp guards and officers; we share in the guilt and confusion of a woman who’s trying to remember her captured husband’s face whilst an attractive Italian POW labours away for her father-in-law in the sun outside her window.
All the while trouble brews. We know the story of the Cowra breakout. We have never had it told like this.” – John Purcell, Booktopia Buzz
“Like all good historical fiction we are reminded that history does not happen to others in some remote place, history happens to all of us and every day. All in all a really enjoyable novel, I read in two days eager to find out how it all ended, even though I knew exactly how it was going to end. If you are a Tom Keneally fan expect the usual: well researched, multilayered novel on a fascinating topic where ordinary people take center stage. Shame and the Captives is also a kind of book that will probably make you want to discover a little bit more about this tragic episode in both Australian and Japanese history.” – Anna O’Grady, The Reading Room