Book Review: Shame and the Captives

Shame and the Captives, by Thomas Keneally

Ton Keneally, Shame and the CAptives

(Sceptre, £15.19; ebook, £9.99) 

Where did the biggest single escape of PoWs take place during the Second World War? The answer, you may be surprised to learn (I certainly was), is the Australian bush. In August 1944, 1,100 Japanese prisoners stormed the gates of their camp outside the small New South Wales town of Cowra, and more than 500 escaped. It’s an incident that the Australian author Thomas Keneally is old enough to remember—along with the terror in the local area at the thought of all those Japanese soldiers on the loose amid the family farms of backwoods Australia. Now he’s turned the story into a gripping novel that also allows him to revisit one of his favourite themes: how being blamelessly tucked away at the bottom of the world has never been enough to protect Australians from the forces of history.

Keneally is probably still best known for his 1982 book Schindler’s Ark, published in America as Schindler’s List. Yet, as he approaches 80, his novels are, if anything, getting better than ever—and in Shame and the Captives, he again combines a sweeping narrative with wholly believable characters and individual sentences of quietly devastating authority.

In short, Keneally’s Indian summer blazes on.