The Last Reunion
Publisher: 30th March 2021 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups
Five women come together at a New Year's Eve's party after decades apart, in this thrilling story of desire, revenge and courage, based on a brave group of Australian and British WWII servicewomen
Burma, 1945. Bea, Plum, Bubbles, Joy and Lucy: five young women in search of adventure, attached to the Fourteenth Army, fighting a forgotten war in the jungle. Assigned to run a mobile canteen, navigating treacherous roads and dodging hostile gunfire, they become embroiled in life-threatening battles of their own. Battles that will haunt the women for the rest of their lives.
Oxford, 1976. At the height of an impossibly hot English summer, a woman slips into a museum and steals several rare Japanese netsuke, including the famed fox-girl. Despite the offer of a considerable reward, these tiny, exquisitely detailed carvings are never seen again.
London and Galway, 1999. On the eve of the new millennium, Olivia, assistant to an art dealer, meets Beatrix, an elderly widow who wishes to sell her late husband's collection of Japanese art. Concealing her own motives, Olivia travels with Beatrix to a New Year's Eve party, deep in the Irish countryside, where friendships will be tested as secrets kept for more than fifty years are spilled.
Inspired by the heroic women who served in the 'forgotten war' in Burma, The Last Reunion is a heartbreaking love story and mystery by the international bestselling author of The Botanist's Daughter and The Silk House. It is also a tribute to the enduring power of female friendship.
All of Kayte's books have been winners for me, so I could not wait to delve into her latest offering. On this occasion, Kayte provides a selection of timelines and themes that she melds beautifully together for an all up fascinating read. Whether it be the mysterious opening with the theft of a rare Japanese artifact, to the jungles of Burma during WWII with the women serving on the frontline, to their reunification fifty years on - this book is loaded with stories of courage and female friendships that are inspiring and make for a most satisfying story.
‘What about the men? They’ll want their jobs back,’ said Plum. ‘Then what will we do?’ Bea asked. ‘One thing I know for certain,’ said Joy, her mouth firmly set. ‘I’m not going to go back to being a wife.’
I was unaware that women were so close to the frontline in Burma during WWII as they served the fighting forces as best they could. The stories these women would live to tell were truly inspiring. To go from afternoon tea parties to fearlessly facing the terrifying scenes of frontline fighting is really quite incredible.
‘... as recently as her mother’s generation, in order to survive the punishing jungles of the East, white women hadn’t been expected to lift a finger, instead they were cosseted by servants who saw to their every need. Now, look at them all.’
The modern day timeline - some fifty years on - see these women meet up again in Ireland and face some underlying issues from the past. This ‘reunion’ will certainly test loyalties that were forged all those many years ago. I also really enjoyed the character of Olivia as a side story - an Aussie trying to live and work in London - her story is more than just a support to Bea.
‘Are you excited about the reunion?’ she asked when they’d settled themselves in the bar, a tumbler of Irish whiskey in front of each of them. ‘I’m not sure excited is exactly the word I’d use ...’
Kayte is a superb writer both in the research she undertakes and the story she then weaves from that, inclusive of characters that you really come to care for. The fact that so much of this story is based on and/or inspired by real life events certainly adds a richness of appreciation to events. This is historical fiction at its best.
All up this a wonderful read that truly opened my eyes to the role women played in Burma during the war. To daily confront such challenging circumstances, one would need to form bonds of support to be able to face it day after day. To find love and friendship amongst such danger and death is what makes this story so incredibly moving.
‘The country had been changed forever; its peaceful people caught in the middle of a war started such a long way from here, in the name of avarice and power. It all seemed so senseless.’
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.