U.S. Review of Books
Gudao, Lone Islet
"We were there to act as human shields for neighbouring munitions factories and a hospital housing Japanese military patients, which was next to our new camp."
In hindsight, war can be viewed from a variety of perspectives, but as each spectator's frame of reference differs from another's, no single vantage point can capture the whole picture. The majority of accounts of World War II's battles in the Pacific Theater focus on naval campaigns, atrocities in POW camps, or the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima on the Japanese mainland. Very few, though, describe what happened during the war years in China other than in Nanking, and almost none recount the war experiences of the expatriate communities that had been caught for various reasons behind enemy lines. What makes Blair's retelling of her experiences so important and riveting is that they are the memories not only of a foreign prisoner in Shanghai but also those of a child, giving the reader a viewpoint on the years just prior to and during the war that is both unique and poignant.
Blair was born in Shanghai to British parents and spent most of her early years in a section of the city set apart as the International Settlement. For those who have lived or grown up in developing countries, the author's experiences with being cared for by national workers, visiting area markets, and seeing firsthand the discrepancies between how foreigners and locals live will probably seem familiar. However, while Blair's depiction of the local color in the first part of the book is fascinating, her observations of the rapidly developing fears of the adults around her and then her own slide into hunger and deprivation in the Japanese camps are haunting. Sprinkled with the insights of an adult but realistically recalled through the eyes of a child, this captivating book is a must for anyone wanting a fresh perspective on World War II.
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