Friday 6 October 2023

Review - Sisters under the Rising Sun by Heather Morris

Sisters under the Rising Sun
Publisher: Zaffre
Release date: 28 September 2023
Back cover blurb: In the midst of WWII, an English musician, Norah Chambers, places her eight-year-old daughter Sally on a ship leaving Singapore, desperate to keep her safe as the island falls to the Japanese Army. Australian nurse Nesta James has enlisted to tend to Allied troops. But as Japanese troops overrun the island she joins the terrified cargo of people, including the heartbroken Norah, crammed aboard the Vyner Brooke merchant ship. Only two days later, they are bombarded from the air off the coast of Indonesia, and in a matter of hours, the Vyner Brooke has sunk. After surviving 24 hours in the sea, Nesta and Norah reach the beaches of a remote island, only to be captured and held in one of the notorious Japanese POW camps. The camps are places of starvation and brutality, where disease runs rampant. But even here joy can be found, in music, where Norah's 'voice orchestra' has the power to transport the internees out of the squalor and into the light. Sisters in arms, Norah and Nesta devote themselves to the women's survival while discovering their own extraordinary reserves of courage, love and strength.

Sisters under the Rising Sun is a beautifully written novel about lesser known (but no less tragic) events of horror and brutality during WW2.

Singapore. Talented English musician Norah Chambers puts her young daughter Sally on a ship to safety as the country begins to surrender to the Japanese. Days later, she, her husband and Sister join another ship the Vyner Brooke hoping to join Sally.

Nesta, a Welsh Australian Nurse has enlisted to help the Allied troops, but the Island where she has been stationed has been overrun by the Japanese. She too finds herself on the Vyner Brooke with many of her colleagues. 

Tragedy strikes at sea, and the Vyner Brooke is sunk. The survivors manage to get themselves on to the beaches of a remote island only to be captured and taken to the first of many Japanese POW camps.

The brutality of the Nazi work and death camps is well documented, but equally as harrowing is the treatment of those who fled their countries prior to the Japanese invasion only to end up Japanese POW.

These camps are places of starvation and brutality that we are familiar with, but set against the blistering sun, rather than the freezing backdrop of Europe. Disease runs rife, but the Nurses have nothing to treat their patients with.

There are no 'experiments' here, no medicines, no equipment, nothing even to bury the dead with when they succumb to their illnesses.

But even under these circumstances the captives find hope and joy amongst the horror. After a camp newspaper, and Christmas concert, the decision is made to have a more permanent musical arrangement and Norah creates a 'Voice Orchestra'.

As months turn into years, those who have survived thus far wonder if the war will ever end, and it does, will they ever see their families again?

Sisters under the Rising Sun is an extraordinary tale of survival against the most horrific of conditions. At times a harrowing read, but a necessary one. The authors notes at the end are especially important to understand the impact of this period of history.

Sisters under the Rising Sun is available now via Amazon online and all good book shops.

Thank You to the publisher who approved my request via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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