Heather Morris is well known for her internationally bestselling novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and in her latest novel she once again returns to the Second World War, but this time to Southeast Asia and a succession of Japanese POW camps.
Opening in February 1942, a group of Australian Army nurses hope to care for the sick and wounded in Singapore, but when the city is overrun by the Japanese, they board the merchant ship Vyner Brooke. Also on board is Norah Chambers, an English musician and her husband, also fleeing the carnage. But only two days later, their ship is sunk off the coast of Indonesia. The surviving Australian nurses and Norah reach the beaches of a remote island, only to be captured by the Japanese. Alongside hundreds of other women, they struggle to survive in the camps, where starvation is never far away, and brutality is their companion. Their struggle will go on for three long years and seven months.
But even in the midst of brutal hardship, there are moments of respite, and one of the joys of the camp is the ‘vocal orchestra’ that Norah forms, where women’s voices take the place of instruments and bring hope in the midst of despair.
Sisters Under the Rising Sun is an astonishing book, that pays tribute to the real-life women of the Australian Army who endured hardship in Japanese POW camps, as well as including the handwritten musical scores by Norah Chambers, who did so much to help morale during these difficult times.
It’s a moving read, one that will have you amazed by the courage and resilience of the central characters in this captivating novel.
Reviewer: Karen McMillan