This is my first book by Liz Tolsma so I wasn’t sure what to expect from her writing style. I love to read historical fiction based in the 1940s around World War II so I was excited to see another Christian author writing about this time period.
Tolsma’s writing transports you to a difficult time in history with vivid descriptions of life in Manila during WWII. Her descriptions of the living conditions and the food in the camps are honest and disturbingly historically accurate. The conversations between the detainees are also well formed and show a good balance of friends keeping each other’s hopes up and venting about how awful life is. I was impressed by the candid portrayal of real-life events in a fictional setting.
It doesn’t take long to become emotionally invested in the lives of Irene and Rand along with all of the other characters you meet. As they are treated worse and worse by their Japanese captors you find yourself willing them to stay alive. The conversations between Irene and her aunt are powerful glimpses into true Christianity in the midst of trials. Even as they are literally starving to death and feverish with awful diseases they don’t grumble or complain and are always praying for everyone around them including the Japanese guards. Each character’s voice comes through in its own way.
This story moved along at a good pace. It is not a quick read because of the tragedies of war, but it didn’t drag either. I found myself anxious to find out who would survive the war and to see which characters would choose faith in God and the power of forgiveness. It is a serious page-turner as you wonder how much more physical, emotional, and spiritual pain the characters will endure.
Without the romantic interludes it would have made a very depressing story. Thankfully the budding romances and Rand’s sense of humor kept enough lighter moments in the story. Even as Rand and Irene work through their differences in beliefs and opinions you see Rand as the hero always looking out for Irene but you also see her standing by him in return.
A large part of this book revolves around forgiveness. Without giving away the details Irene and Rand both find numerous opportunities to practice forgiveness the way Jesus forgave. These moments were not easy for them but were powerful practices of sharing Christ’s love. Rand’s conversion after witnessing God at work in Irene and her aunt’s lives was moving. And his true transformation from greed to giving was a brilliant testimony. This book is filled with scripture references, hymns, and prayers but could be a witnessing opportunity if you have a friend who enjoys historical fiction.
Since it deals with difficult themes of torture, death, starvation, rape, and other war related tragedies it is painful at times to re-live those moments in history even in a fictional account. This book would be best suited for adults or older more mature youth. While Tolsma never dwells on the graphic descriptions they are there to properly convey the tone of the book. There is also mention of pre-marital and extra-marital relationships and blackmail which some readers may find offensive.
Most WWII books focus on the Nazi regime and concentration camps and forget about the atrocities that took place in the Pacific so it was a nice change of pace to finally read a book based in the Philippines. Tolsma threw in plenty of twists and turns to keep you turning pages without overwhelming you. If you love books set in the WWII time period you’ll find this a good alternative to another book about a German concentration camp.
Thomas Nelson provided me with a complimentary copy of this book through Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.