Title: To Love A Sunburnt Country (Matilda Saga #4)
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 1st December 2014
Synopsis: In war-torn Malaya, Nancy dreams of Australia – and a young man called Michael.
The year is 1942 and the world is at war. Nancy Clancy left school at fourteen to spend a year droving, just like her grandfather Clancy of the Overflow. Now sixteen, Nancys family has sent her to Malaya to bring home her sister-in-law Moira and baby nephew Gavin. Yet despite the threat of Japanese invasion, Moira resists, wanting to stay near her husband Ben.
But not even Nancy of the Overflow can stop the fall of Singapore and the capture of so many Australian troops. When their ship is bombed, Nancy, Moira and Gavin are reported missing.
Back home at Gibbers Creek, Michael refuses to believe the girl he loves has died. As Darwin, Broome and even Sydney are bombed, Australians must fight to save their country. But as Michael and the families of Gibbers Creek discover, there are many ways to love your country, and many ways to fight for it.
From one of Australias most-admired storytellers comes a gripping and unforgettable novel based on true events and little-known people.
This is a story about ultimate survival and the deepest kinds of love.
A book about a love of country that is heartwarming and heartbreaking, and hard to put down.
To Love A Sunburnt Country returns to the world of Matilda Thompson and Drinkwater, against the backdrop of World War Two and the impending Japanese threat as the Imperial Japanese Army takes over Thailand, Malaya and the impenetrable Singapore in their attempts to gain a foothold in the Asia Pacific region. Nancy Clancy, Jackie French’s imagined granddaughter of Clancy of the Overflow, is sent to Malaya to escort her sister-in-law, Moira, home before it is too late. Told through the voices of most of the women of Gibbers Creek – Nancy, Matilda, Flinty from The Girl from Snowy River, Blue and Mah from The Road to Gundagai, and a few men – Thomas and Michael Thompson, and Ben, Nancy’s brother, this is the first book in the saga that uses different perspectives for chapters, alongside the usual letters and excerpts from the Gibbers Creek Gazette that inform the history behind the fictional characters and location.
Again, Jackie French has employed strong female and male characters – the voices of war, and the home front. The soldiers, trapped by the enemy in savage prisoner of war camps, whose letters are interspersed and dangle a hook and bait of hope that they’ll all make it out alive, and the civilian prisoners of war in Papua, including Nancy, her sister-in-law Moira, and her nephew Gavin, trapped for years in a camp, starved, and suffering illnesses. It is a world that young Gavin grows up knowing – and a world that Nancy wishes she could have spared him from.
It is Nancy’s prisoner of war experience that is the focus – the silent struggles she goes through that only those around her can understand, and her ability to show some kind of respect to those who keep them prisoner, and earn privileges she uses to gather food, and start to plan an escape in the later years of war. The use of a voice of war, a female civilian prisoner of war, is what gives this novel its strength. Through history, we know much of the soldier prisoner of war experiences, and the experiences of soldiers, and of the home front, the Land Girls, but perhaps not always those left behind to wonder, to hope and to grieve. A silenced voice can be powerful in communicating a message. Jackie French has achieved this in a wonderful way throughout the Matilda Saga.
As a reader, I lived Nancy’s frustration at the stubbornness of Moira not wanting to leave Malaya until the last possible moment, her strength as she got them to the ship, and finally, her pain – physical, mental and emotional – that threatened to destroy her strength and the will to live. The camp Nancy endures is confronting yet I felt this was necessary to encapsulate just how many people were affected by Japanese invasions and not hearing about loved ones, the isolation and fear. It communicated a war story through an often-silenced voice, one not often written about – to give insight into how war can affect everyone.
I’ve said this before – Jackie French’s silenced characters give history depth and an understanding that may have previously been lost or ignored. It breaks down the barrier that what is recorded in the history books is not always the full story – and a little bit more digging can reveal untold stories and interesting facts we may not have known before.