Genre: Historical Fiction – WWII – Burma – Strong Females
📖 I loved this book. I love historical fiction anyway but it’s not often that I read fiction set in the 20th century. The blurb on this book had me immediately intrigued. The story is set over two timelines. In the modern timeline, Olivia, an apprentice art dealer is sent to the country to try to convince an elderly widow (Beatrix) to sell her most prized possession, a Japanese netsuke. However, gaining the provenance needed to sell the netsuke could prove tricky as Beatrix has a rather interesting past, one which will need to be brought to light if the sale is to go ahead.
✍️ The second timeline is set in Burma in 1945 and tells the story of Beatrix (then known as Bea) and her friends as they sign up for the Wasbies, the Women’s Auxiliary Service. The girls soon find themselves shipped all over and facing long days serving men on the frontline in very difficult circumstances. They learn how to take care of themselves, each other and the hundreds of men to whom they provide food, services and a friendly smile each day.
🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract from a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:
‘You can sleep when you’re dead,’ said Plum, throwing a towel at Bea’s head.
Bea groaned and shaded her face with her arm. ‘I didn’t get a wink last night,’ she complained as Plum and Bubbles got ready to go out. ‘Not the one before that.’
‘You heard what Mrs St John said about morale,’ said Bubbles as she shimmied her hips into a tight-fitting silk dress. ‘It’s expected that we’ll go to dances; help cheer up the troops. I hope Charles won’t mind too much; of course, I wish it were his arms around me.’
So, dancing skills were in fact required. Bea sighed. ‘I’m sure that’s half the reason you signed up,’ she said dismissively.
‘Course it was,’ laughed Plum, oblivious to Bea’s sarcasm.
👫 I think most who read this book will fall in love with Bea. Her character arc is very interesting. In the historic timeline, she is introduced as polite, and straight-talking but rather shy (noting others amongst her friendship group are the life of the party). Yet by the modern timeline, she is an old woman, bolshy, brave and strong-willed. The war has changed her, she knows she is strong, adaptable and not afraid to get her hands dirty.
🗺 As mentioned, this book has two storylines, the second taking place in Burma. Burma is often called the Forgotten war because its operations were often overlooked by the contemporary press and remained more obscure than those of the corresponding formations in Europe for long after the war. Although I have read a few books about the war and watched a few war documentaries, I knew little about this time period and location, this book did such a marvellous job of bringing it alive. The author included so much detail, even the changes in the weather and the hardship that could bring.
💭 Overall View: A great historical fiction adventure from the frontline.