Reviewed for Front Street Reviews
Originally posted November 30, 2008
This is an unusual book. It appears to be at least 2 stories, perhaps 3 all running concurrently. Please be sure to read the Foreword, which sets out the military facts on which the book is based.
The story begins in Florida, February, 1944. The accidental death of a man starts a wave of events that eventually draws what seems to be an unrelated story into the small town of Santa Fe, New Mexico bringing his soon-to-be ex-wife (his widow, Anissa) and his soon-to-be new wife (his "widow", Phyllis) together and turning this usually calm town upside down.
Santa Fe has no eligible recruits for the military left, all were sent to the war in the Philippines and all were surrendered to the Bataan Death March. Many were still underage. The men of Santa Fe spent almost their entire war service as POWs in one of the most brutal camps in the Philippines. This part of the story is written in the same time frame as the story of the families left behind in Santa Fe. The interaction of the two sides of the world is very well-written. There are glimpses of how the men in the camp survived on one side, and how the family members every moment was played out in their minds from the other side, how they kept their love and faith going to bring them home. Everyone was a victim.
While trying to accept the two outsiders, the true widow and almost widow from Florida, there are other outsiders in Santa Fe as well; men in black coats, men watching and listening. There are questions about paved roads and trucks. Phyllis sees something and is told it is extremely confidential. Anissa has become involved with a fanatical religious faction, fully expecting that the war will soon end when Saint Germaine raises his blazing purple sword and the violet flame releases the planet from evil. It begs the question, has she too seen something she shouldn't have?
I found the Philippines sections and the families left behind in Santa Fe to be very real and the blending of the stories went very well. For three years neither side receives mail, but the families write every day anyway. However, some parts of the antagonism between the two outsiders didn't seem to fit at times. Phyllis, from Florida, is a person out of place but with her own purposes in mind, whereas Anissa, who had been in Santa Fe for a much longer time was very involved with the townspeople and in particular with her neighbour, Nicasia, who has already lost one son and her husband to the war. Living with Nicasia is LaBelle who is waiting for Nicasia's only other son Melo to return and marry her.
The war is suddenly over and the POWs are slowly returning but the war will never be over for them. It takes time for any expectation of normalcy to begin. But there is hope and a mother's faith and love. The book is interesting at different levels, and was a fairly quick read. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a different perspective at the war years. Also for all those with an interest in this botched portion of war history.