Heiss examines a slice of history that played out during World War II in New South Wales A major breakout at a Prisoner of War compound occurred in the August of 1944 While many soldiers were recaptured or sadly committed suicide, a handful of prisoners managed to remain at large Hiroshi, a university educated, gentle young Japanese man, is one such escapee that makes a desperate bid for freedom He ends up on the outskirts of the main town of Cowra, on a local aboriginal mission named Erambie Station Here, he finds acceptance and sanctuary in the form of Aboriginal elders, who decide to save his life and hide him in a bunker on the mission When the daughter of a prominent elder is sent to check on Hiroshi and provide him with his daily food allowance, an unlikely relationship forms The two begin to exchange anecdotes on their differing cultures and the cruel polices that have prevented both from leading a free life A friendship eventually blossoms into love However, Hiroshi and Mary know that even if the war ends, it is very unlikely that they will be able to live as they desire.
Anita Heiss has brought a little known chapter in Australia s World War II history to life for the reader in her evocative novel, Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms For me, the strength of this book lies in the exploration of the hidden history of the POW camp Coming to the novel with a lack of knowledge of both internment camps for POW soldiers in the war, as well as next to no understanding of aboriginal missions, made this novel all the enthralling Heiss has clearly embarked on a meticulous level of research to build her story upon I feel the research simply shines through her writing and the narrative as a whole.
The pleasure that I gained from reading Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms came chiefly from the principal characters Hiroshi and Mary I loved gentle Hiroshi, the Japanese soldier, saved and hidden by the aboriginal elders on the mission Hiroshi shows the reader a very personal side to World War II, the interned Japanese perspective I thoroughly enjoyed the moments where Hiroshi shared his rich culture and general views on life with Mary In Mary, whom I also loved, I gleaned an understanding of the aboriginal culture, as well as the appalling lack of general human rights in this era What also compelled me to turn pages was the fragile relationship that developed between Hiroshi and Mary as the book progresses To me, it sent the message that love knows no boundaries in the face of war and adversity.
There is much that can be taken away from the experience of reading Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms As well as being a tender love story, it is a fine exploration of two different cultures and the confronting policies of the time The novel also offers a lesson in the art of compassion, in the face of hopelessness This is a story that needs to be told and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to do so, through the writing of Anita Heiss, a gifted Australian storyteller.
com Presented empathetically and with much historical consideration including importantly Heiss own family recollection , Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is what makes Anita Heiss brilliant.
Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms explores the aftermath of the Cowra Breakout in 1944 during which over 1000 Japanese soldiers being held as prisoners of war plotted and carried out a prison break Many perished, were recaptured, or in an act of pride took their own lives in the attempt, however one man, Hiroshi, managed to escape and was taken in by an Aboriginal man, Banjo Williams, and his family Knowing what it was like to live an existence of restrictions and exclusion from the general population due to the White Australia policy of the time, Williams and his family, notably daughter Mary, work hard to afford Hiroshi as many dignities and we re talking absolute basics here food, water, bathing as is manageable while keeping his existence at the Mission secret lest they be caught harbouring a prison escapee.
At first, the romance between Hiroshi and Mary is slow in the sense of Heiss very measured storytelling Their attraction to one another is evident very quickly however with many cultural and indeed legal barriers in play Aboriginals having no rights at that time and Hiroshi being an escaped prisoner of war it was important to the believability of the story for Heiss to take this approach Though at it s essence this is a love story, it s not a throw caution to the wind romantic situation That Heiss presents the enormity of the challenges Hiroshi and Mary faced without skimming over the less glamourous aspects of their relationship yet still presenting the beauty of their romance is a testament to her storytelling abilities.
Heiss seamlessly weaves in depictions of the landscape, the community of the Mission, and the characters in a way that is truly encapsulating It s hard to shake off the story once you ve read it and I expect this will be a novel that stays with me for some time Throughout, there is an astonishing amount of research that Heiss has included from Aboriginal elders that adds to the depth of the storytelling and the characters.
Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is at heart a story of love Hiroshi and Mary s love for one another, the unconditional love from family, the love Aboriginal people have for the land, and the restorative power that true love of any kind can have on the human soul.
Loving historical reads and the fact that Cowra is only a few hours from where I live, I have always had an interest in the Cowra Breakout and that time period The love story of Mary Hiroshi was slow and gradual and I just loved it With Mary sneaking meals to Hiroshi who had escaped from the prison camp and was hiding in a bomb shelter, knowing that their love was probably doomed from the start didn t stop me from being in their corner The time period has been well researched and I really enjoyed this great read.
Set in Cowra New South Wales during World War II, Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss was a pleasant love story Love takes all shapes and sizes and I ve read plenty of variations but this novel was unique in that the blossoming romance was between Hiroshi an escaped Japanese prisoner of war, and Mary a 17 year old aboriginal girl on Erambie Mission Having found Hiroshi, Mary s father hid him in their air raid shelter and committed to saving him whilst the locals were baying for blood Each evening Mary was sent to share the family s meagre rations with Hiroshi and during the months he remained hidden they came to understand much about each other, their cultures and living conditions.
In this way I too learnt about the Japanese culture and their firmly instilled attitude it is better to die with honor than to live with shame It was unfathomable to me that Hiroshi s father should instruct himIf you go to war, please dieSimilarly, I came to learn the mindset of white Australia and gained a greater understanding of the difficulties experienced by Australian aboriginals in those years In NSW, the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 had stripped aboriginals of many of their human rights and the author helped the reader to see the impact of this on the every day life of Mary, her family and other residents of Erambie Whilst I enjoyed the story and the lessons I learnt, the third person narrative kept me slightly detatched from the characters Whereas I could imagine some of the heartbreaking scenes I didn t feel them and this stopped me from rating higher than I did Still an enjoyable read and I look forward to discussing at book club.
So a romance, a coming of age story, one of those clash of cultures talesnot quite Because for a start Mary s family does not fit the trope They don t misunderstand her They don t attempt to control her or bring her into line They don t hate, ostracise or even betray Hiroshi They seem unusually wise in their interpersonal relationships, they work hard to be politically savvy which at first I thought was a stretch given how hard their lives would have been then I considered that sometimes ignorance is the luxury of the privileged and began to wonder The book is sometimes heavy handed with the critical politics, having characters converse about the injustice of their situation constantly and in detail somehow it is still a positive book.
I wonder if that is because as white Australians we have been notoriously slow over they years and continue to be and have preferred to trivialise and erase Aboriginal experience of injustice Heiss would be than aware of this In any case it was broken up with enough light hearted relating to not be a major flaw I loved Mary s mother, although she is a bit too good to be true but I loved her so I can deal with that I didn t much like any of the male characters in the book and the way they threw their weight around, I thought the gender in the book was one of the least enjoyable things and I couldn t work out whether Heiss meant for that to have a subtle critical shading over it or whether she accepts that view of men and heter0 sexuality.
I hated King Billie, but we are meant to He has no redeeming features but I didn t want him to He fit with the simplicity of the book and even he was treated with less than the bitterness he might have deserved from a clearly disapproving author The movement seems to be toward a naming of experience and a hope for reconciliation The characters live in a world before Aboriginal people were even allowed to vote or make basic choices of where to live, work or how to look after their families google basics card if you want to know how some people these days wish to turn the clock back They don t want to fight anyone, hurt anyone, harm anyone but they are pretty pissed off by the status quo They want freedom, dignity and prosperity and point out that even prisoners have better access to these than they do The extent of their poverty and lack of choice is stark and something we do need as a society to face instead of figuring we fixed it and can forget it ever happened.
Having said all that read the book If you can tell me what purpose the epilogue serves then you are one up on me But a worthwhile and flowing read overall.
I ve seen Barbed Wires and Cherry Blossoms in the shops recently because of its gorgeous cover To be honest though, while I ve read Anita s previous contempory novels this one didn t really appeal to me It wasn t until a friend lent it to me that I gave it ago And I m so glad I did because the story of Mary and Hirosho is unlike any love story I ve every read Set in Cowra 1944, it s also a lesson about the realities for the Indigenous Australians all those years ago and their role in both World Wars, the treatment of Japanese POWS and most importantly, humanity With so many issues being tackled, Anita s writing is simple and powerful, bringing tears to my eyes at the end.
August, Over Japanese Soldiers Attempt To Break Out Of The No Prisoner Of War Compound On The Fringes Of Cowra In The Carnage, Hundreds Are Killed, Many Are Recaptured And Imprisoned, And Some Take Their Own Lives Rather Than Suffer The Humiliation Of Ongoing Defeat But One Soldier, Hiroshi, Determined To Avoid Either Fate, Manages To EscapeAt Nearby Erambie Aboriginal Mission, Banjo Williams, Father Of Nine And Proud Man Of His Community, Discovers A Distraught Hiroshi, Pleading For Help The People Of Erambie Have Seen Enough Death And Heartache, So Banjo And The Erambie Community Decide To Offer Hiroshi RefugeMary, Banjo S Daughter, Recently Returned From Being In Service In Sydney, Is Intrigued By The Japanese Stranger, And Is Charged With His Care Love Blossoms, But Life For The Community On The Mission Is One Of Restriction Living Under Acts Of Protection And Assimilation, And Always Under The Watchful Eye Of The Mission Manager In Wartime Australia, The Children Are Terrified Of Air Raids, But Their Parents Fear A Life Without Rights And For Mary And Hiroshi, There Is Much In Their WayMary Is Forbidden Under The Act, And By Her Own Father, To Marry Hiroshi, So Together They Plot Their Own Escape From The Mission But Solidarity In The Community Is Eroding And Trouble Is BrewingA Story About A Love That Transcends All Boundaries, From One Of Australia S Best Loved Authors 4 starsBased on historical events that occurred near Cowra in NSW during the Second World War, Anita Heiss has woven a romantic story between Hiroshi, a Japanese prisoner of war and Mary, an aboriginal mission girl Her choice of personalities enables her story to develop acceptably Hiroshi a sensitive poet and student of English student before the war is able to communicate with his protectors, and Banjo Williams, Mary s father is a considerate man who desires to carefully undermine the authority of the government because of its treatment of his people, and thus has a reason to hide Hiroshi Further, there is Mary, the eighteen year old girl who works in the mission manager s house and because of her youthfulness is asked by her family to deliver food to Hiroshi Mary is the perfect spokesperson to explain the situation of Aboriginal people living in missions and to listen to and understand the situation of young men forced to go to war within a proud Japanese culture which cannot except defeat or capture.
The book is well crafted and educational as it describes many aspects of Australian history thatare often hidden, embarrassing and or just not contemplated The incredible treatment of Aboriginal people, including the forced confinement in missions, unpaid labour, segregation in public places and general dispossession of their land and rights is revealed throughout the story whenever the main male characters who live in the Erambie Station mission discuss and compare the differences in the conditions in the prisoner of war camps, both Italian and Japanese which are obviously better than those that they endure at the mission Also, the Government Protection Act which enabled the moving of Aboriginal people out of towns and into reserves is expounded when Mary tries to explain their situation to Hiroshi.
The mission manager and his family are credible characters of that era This white family does not question their right to control and use their Aboriginal charges as cheap labour also to humiliate and abuse them if they find them wanting Nevertheless, Mrs Smith is usually kind to Mary and even allows her to take home the newspapers and to borrow books, which she shares with Hiroshi This is a fine book, a sad and inevitable romance but a very worthwhile read.
I found the premise of the book a bit far fetched one of the Japanese POWs who escaped during the Cowra break out is hidden in a bomb shelter by a family of local aborigines, he is visited at night by the 17 year old Mary who brings food, water and news, they converse he speaks English well and they fall in love But I think the book is not so much about the blossoming romance, but about exposing how Aboriginals were treated during WWII, with confinement, restriction in employment and education, rationing and lack of opportunities to live anywhere else unless they get a certificate to declare they are no longer an Aboriginal or if a woman they marry a white man Also described is the lack of rights of returned indigenous soldiers, their respect to others who also lack equality and an interesting sharing of cultural appreciation of nature and the land.
The book is one that should be read by Australians.
A slow, tender novel that focuses on events following the Cowra Breakout in NSW in 1944, Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is about love, crossing boundaries, and home Hiroshi and Mary s story unfolds against the background of genuine fear and ignorance, racial fear mongering and the White Australia policy, and resentment and bitterness These were tough enough times for Hiroshi and Mary without cupid s arrow entering the field.
I had little knowledge of the Cowra breakout before this book, so the historical events were of great interest to me It s easy in hindsight to be angry about how things were handled at the time, from the breakout itself to equally disturbing actions like interning Italians, restricting Indigenous peoples rights, and the White Australia policy itself Yet, I m not sure that anger is what Anita Heiss wants forgive me, Anita if I am wrong here I think she wants readers like me to become aware of how history has been recorded, and some of the deeper, buried truths that need uncovering, understanding, recognition and change.
Above all, this is a love story, and leaving history aside, the story is beautifully rendered and had me in tears by the end.