Shame and the Captives – Tom Keneally

Posted: February 14, 2014 in general fiction, Review, war

shame and the captives

The inmates of an Australian POW camp are allowed out to work for farmers in rural NSW. Giancarlo, an Italian POW and anarchist, works for Duncan and forms a close relationship with his daughter-in-law Alice.  She finds Giancarlo bright and charming, quickly teaching him English while he shows her the other side of the war.  She is living with Duncan while her husband is a POW in Germany. 

The Japanese POWs feel ashamed at being captured, preferring an honourable death in battle or suicide rather than to live as a prisoner.  They despise their captors for treating them humanely and decide to stage a breakout where the can be killed for escaping and regain their honour.

The book is based on the Cowra POW camp breakout in Australia when a group of Japanese prisoners escaped during WWII.  Keneally describes the book in the introduction as being ‘a lie that tells the truth’.  The idea that if Australia treated its prisoners fairly their soldiers would get equal treatment is shown and as I’d just read The Long Road North, seems naive and sad. Two of the main characters had a son or husband imprisoned overseas and cherished t

The separate housing of the prisoners to accommodate their different needs is amazing but sad; with the Japanese treating other Asians like slaves.  The insight into their way of thinking is incredible in it’s so alien to the Western world and the differences in how war criminals were treated in the courts after the war are shocking.  The writing is a bit dull and boring but the subject matter makes it worth the read.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan


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