cover image Shame and the Captives

Shame and the Captives

Thomas Keneally. Atria, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4767-3464-4

The author of Schindler%E2%80%99s List again novelizes a small yet revealing event from World War II. Based on the 1944 Cowra breakout in New South Wales, Australia, the novel interweaves perspectives of people in and around the fictional Gawell prisoner-of-war camp, where Japanese captives suffer less from conditions than from living with the shame of having been captured while more amiable Italian prisoners work on local farms, sing, or share news. The novel opens during the spring of 1943, after Italy has joined the Allies. Keneally explores the lives and innermost thoughts of, among others, Abercare, the English camp commandant trying to avoid conflict with his wife, his prisoners and his subordinates; Suttor, the radio writer in charge of Compound C, more in touch with his surly unpredictable prisoners than his commanding officer; Emily, Abercare%E2%80%99s unhappy wife; Nevski, the intelligent Russian-born translator. Keneally depicts the tragic reach of the war on a number of different lives, including the horror of a war crime and the neatness of the cover-up. Other writers may be more adept at portraying female emotions or dinner-party chatter, but no one equals Keneally for documenting the actions of human beings caught up in war, some desperate to hold onto their humanity, others desperate to die. (Feb.)