For three years after the fall of Manila, 2100 Allied civilians have been imprisoned at Los Baños Internment Camp, notorious for its horrendous conditions. American Remy Tuck, the camp's resident gambler, struggles daily with his Japanese army captors to keep his community of Americans, Brits, and Dutch alive, as they stave off starvation and protect one another from vicious punishments. Remy's son, Talbot, now nineteen, has become a man while in captivity. Headstrong to the hilt and a nimble thief, Tal can move like a snake under the guards' noses and defies their orders at every opportunity.
On the other side of the barbed wire, looking down on the camp, is the Filipina Carmen, a "comfort woman" who has been kidnapped by the Japanese, raped, and forced into sexual slavery to service the Imperial Japanese Army. Carmen battles to keep herself physically and emotionally intact. A favorite of one of the guards, she accepts his occasional kindnesses but has eyes only for Tal, whose fortitude in the face of great suffering astounds her. Tal, in turn, looks up to Carmen's high window and sees the grace and courage with which she endures her imprisonment. Without speaking, the two fall in love above the encampment grounds.
As the tide of the war in the Pacific turns against the Japanese, tensions and danger in the camp escalate. In the face of all but certain execution at the hands of their captors, Remy and Tal enact a daring plan to save their fellow prisoners and the woman Tal loves.
Remy Tuck had not seen his own reflection in three weeks. He'd lost his shaving mirror in a poker game to a man with jaundice. Remy hadn't tried to win the mirror back. Lately, he played only for food.
He sat under a giant dao tree near the barbed wire, rolling dice on a plank. The faces of the internees around him told him enough of what he must look like. Scooped-eyed and hollow-cheeked, three of them bet with Remy for the prize of an egg, while the rest read or dozed. One of the gamblers, a former mechanic for Pan Am, tipped his sharp chin up away from their game. Remy stopped rattling the dice to gaze through the dao's branches into the dispersing mist of a warm December morning. The faroff hum of an American plane -- the Japanese had no presence anymore in the Philippine sky -- added its burr to the calls of birds and insects in the scrub and bamboo inside the camp, the jungle outside it. Remy put down the dice. The whine of the airplane shifted to a higher tone. ...
With keen insight and deft characterization, Robbins investigates the pressures of deprivation and cruelty on the most common of human relationships – the love between a father and son and the love between a man and a woman – in a most uncommon circumstance... His attention to historical detail and the sympathetic treatment of his captivating characters create an absorbing novel that will appeal to a variety of readers.
(Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).
Full Review (1170 words).
Carmen's experience as a comfort woman in Los Baños was not an uncommon one for southeast Asian women during World War II. The system of brothels began in 1932. In the early stages, volunteer Japanese prostitutes were used until Japan's military expansion made it difficult to get volunteers. At this point, the military turned to coercing women in areas of Japanese occupation to join the system. The majority of the women were taken from Korea or China. It was believed that the risk of a Japanese soldier running into a sister or friend in a comfort station would have devastating effects, so comfort women - at least during the war - were exclusively recruited from outside Japan.
Korean comfort women who survived and were...
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