‘Their motto was to be prepared, but nothing could prepare them for war. . .‘
– The Bird in the Bamboo Cage
[ Book Description ]
China, December 1941.
Having left an unhappy life in England for a teaching post at a missionary school in northern China, Elspeth Kent is now anxious to return home to help the war effort. But as she prepares to leave China, a terrible twist of fate determines a different path for Elspeth, and those in her charge.
Ten-year-old Nancy Plummer has always felt safe at Chefoo School, protected by her British status. But when Japan declares war on Britain and America, Japanese forces take control of the school and the security and comforts Nancy and her friends are used to are replaced by privation, uncertainty and fear. Now the enemy, and separated from their parents, the children look to their teachers – to Miss Kent and her new Girl Guide patrol especially – to provide a sense of unity and safety.
Faced with the relentless challenges of oppression, the school community must rely on their courage, faith and friendships as they pray for liberation – but worse is to come when they are sent to a distant internment camp where even greater uncertainty and danger await . . .
[ My Review ]
The Bird in the Bamboo Cage by Hazel Gaynor will be published August 20th with Harper Collins. It is a novel inspired by true events and is described as ‘an unforgettable novel about impossible choices and unimaginable hardship, and the life-changing bonds formed between a young girl and her teacher in a remote corner of a terrible war.’
It’s no secret that I love Hazel Gaynor’s writing so I just couldn’t put off sharing my thoughts on her upcoming release a little earlier than I had intended. Hazel Gaynor’s ability to develop her characters in all her books, bringing history alive on the pages, is such a wonderful skill. The Bird in the Bamboo Cage is no exception as it immerses the reader completely into the lives of the teachers and children of the Chefoo Missionary School for foreigners on China’s eastern coast in Shandong during WW2. The story of Chefoo school is real. The internment of the teachers and children following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbour is real. Hazel Gaynor’s inspiration for the book was an NPR Podcast and, with her own involvement with the Brownies/Guides when growing up, she brought the two together and created this wonderful tale.
“We didn’t talk about it afterwards.
Not to loved ones, or to neighbours who stared at us from across the street, curious to know more about these lost children, returned from the war in China like ghosts come back from the dead.
Eventually everyone stopped staring and wondering
WE WERE FORGOTTEN.
BUT WE DIDN’T FORGET“
Elspeth Kent moved to China to escape her own personal troubles at home. With her dreams shattered, she ‘escaped’ to China for an adventure, some excitement to distract her from her own life. Teaching was the perfect role for Elsbeth and for awhile she enjoyed her job in Chefoo School but the time had come to bid farewell, to return home and face up to her life in England. But when the Japanese troops entered the school gates, Elsbeth never got the opportunity to resign and she knew that life was never going to be the same again.
Nancy Plummer and her friends were students of Chefoo School. With her parents working away as missionaries, she was placed in the care of the school for her education. She was expecting to see her parents during the holidays, but the winter season put a stop to that. Then the sudden arrival of the Japanese army brought a new reality crashing down. Nancy knew that her days were about to change but she was totally unprepared for the journey that lay in front of her.
With the motivation of the teachers, the pupils of the school were encouraged to develop a can-do attitude. Nancy and her friends were involved with the Brownies, so were used to structure and achieving goals. Using the ideology of the Brownie handbook, Elsbeth created ‘fun’ challenges for her students, providing much needed distraction from the looming chaos surrounding them.
The Japanese army took over the school and eventually after a few moves, the Chefoo School community were moved to the internment camp at Weihsien, a place for enemies of the Japanese state. The conditions here were deplorable but Elsbeth and her colleagues did their utmost to protect the children from some of the barbaric actions of a few of the Japanese soldiers. Hazel Gaynor incorporates the real-life story of Olympian athlete Eric Liddell, who was also interred at the camp and was a central character in providing inspiration to many of the children based there. Hazel Gaynor provides the reader with insights into the ingenuity of the prisoners to keep themselves sane and alive during their time in the camp. One example is the true story of how eggshells were baked, crushed and then fed to the children to help with obvious calcium deficiencies due to the bad diet provided to them. These eggs were a valuable commodity traded on the very dangerous black market.
Anyone who watched the 1980s TV series Tenko will be completely captivated by The Bird in the Bamboo Cage. Tenko, although a fictional account of a similar Japanese internment camp, felt very authentic. The portrayal of these people and the lengths they went to to survive each day was so very poignant, very realistic. Hazel Gaynor brings the same authenticity to her story. Elspeth Kent and Nancy Plummer feel real. Their stories of bravery, of courage, of fear rise up off the pages, leaving the reader with a real sense of the heightened emotions experienced.
Hazel Gaynor has written a truly compelling and emotive tale, one that will remain in my heart and mind for quite some time. It is a book that sent me off researching the stories of the admirable people who lived through these terrible and frightening days, which is always the sign of an exceptional read.
“I hope that by writing this relatively unknown story of World War II, and by following in the footsteps of the remarkable girls and boys, women and men who lived through those years, that their experience will become more widely known and their story will live on.
We owe them all an enormous debt of gratitude.”
– Hazel Gaynor
The Bird in the Bamboo Cage is a story of anguish and pain, of sadness and despair, of endurance, of resilience and of hope. It is a very affecting read recounting a remarkable and shocking period of history. Hazel Gaynor writes historical fiction that completely captures the readers imagination, really guaranteeing that The Bird in the Bamboo Cage will be another sure-fire bestseller on release. Pre-order it folks. You will not regret it!
[ Bio ]
Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning, New York Times, USA Today, Irish Times and international bestselling author. Her 2014 debut novel The Girl Who Came Home—A Novel of the Titanic won the 2015 Romantic Novelists’ Association Historical Novel of the Year, A Memory of Violets, was a 2015 WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, The Girl from The Savoy was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book Awards, and The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter was shortlisted for the 2019 Historical Writers’ Association Gold Crown Award.
Last Christmas in Paris (co-written with Heather Webb) won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association STAR Award. Their second collaboration, Meet Me In Monaco, was shortlisted for the 2020 Romantic Novelists’ Association Historical Novel of the Year.
Twitter ~ @HazelGaynor
THE BIRD IN THE BAMBOO CAGE will be published in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand in August 2020. The book will be published under the title WHEN WE WERE YOUNG & BRAVE in the USA and Canada in October 2020.