Book Review Shame and the Captives.


Shame and the Captives is a book about an important, yet often overlooked piece of Australian History.  During World War II there were camps set up for prisoners of war from Korea, Japan and Italy in Cowra, NSW.  In this book the fictional town is called Gawell and is where we follow the lives of different characters and ordinary families leading up to a planned outbreak of the camps in August 1944.

There are Japanese and Korean prisoners in Camp C who would rather pretend to be dead to their families than admit the piercing shame of being captured.  There are also the Australians who may have their own sons and husbands fighting a war overseas, yet take on these strange prisoners of war to work on their farms and properties.  In some way they think by respecting these prisoners and treating them well, their own soldiers overseas will survive and come home safely.  This book takes a peek at the local townspeople and how they adjust to a world which has been turned upside down by war and the confronting situation of foreigners who seem to look, act and behave in a way so alien to their own lives.

At times I found the writing style so dry and lacking narrative I felt I was reading a historic biography rather than a fictional tale.  The book on the whole is well written though and I found myself particularly drawn to the story of Alice Herman, who is left tending a large property with her father-in-law Duncan, a salt of the earth, hard working farmer while her newly wed husband is in a prisoner of war camp overseas.  Duncan decides to employ the services of an Italian soldier Giancarlo who becomes more than just a farm hand to both of them.

The book culminates in a planned outbreak by the Japanese and Koreans.  How will the town react?  What price will the prisoners pay for their unplanned freedom and how will the town of Gawell be affected?

Tom Keneally tells his story of Shame and the Captives through ‘historical fabrication’.  A great read for anyone interested in Australia’s part in World War II and the story of one of the bloodiest outbreaks of prisoners of war in NSW.  This is a great book for those who love Australian history but if you are looking for pure fiction this book may not hold your attention.