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The Last Reunion Kindle Edition
Friendships will be tested when five women come together at a New Year's Eve party after decades apart, in this thrilling story based on a brave group of WWII servicewomen, by the bestselling author of The Silk House
Burma, 1945. Bea, Plum, Bubbles, Joy and Lucy: in search of adventure, attached to the Fourteenth Army, fighting a forgotten war in the jungle. Assigned to run a mobile canteen, they become embroiled in life-threatening battles of their own.
Oxford, 1976. A woman steals several rare Japanese netsuke from a museum. 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, and Beatrix, an elderly widow who wishes to sell her late husband's collection of Japanese art, travel to a party deep in the Irish countryside, where 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.
'This is very good commercial historical fiction, well-crafted and well-informed. It pulls no punches about wartime violence, and Kayte Nunn has some thoughtful points to make about the nature and endurance of women's friendships' Sydney Morning Herald
'Absolutely magnificent. Includes all of my favourite things: art, female friendship and courageous women discovering their true heart and soul against a backdrop of war' NATASHA LESTER
'Evocative writing from the horrors of war and the deep life scars derived from it, melded with real tenderness, a cleverly worked and beguiling plot and memorable characters, render this book as quite simply, a superlative read - and the twist in the tale, perfect' Christopher Bantick, Weekly Times
'Several things are true about Kayte Nunn's novels: you will laugh, you will cry, you will learn something, and you'll be reluctant to leave her characters behind. This is all especially true of The Last Reunion, an uplifting story about the power of love, memory and determination that moves between World War II and the recent past' SOPHIE GREEN
'I couldn't put it down. Fascinating. I love the empowerment that these ladies gain' FIONA PALMER
About the Author
- ASIN : B08N17S1KH
- Publisher : Hachette Australia (31 March 2021)
- Language : English
- File size : 4117 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 369 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: 66,248 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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I love stories that skip between contemporary and historic settings and this story did not disappoint. Well worth a read.
“Beatrix, once ensconced in a tub chair in the ferry’s lounge, closed her eyes and seemed to sleep for almost the entire duration.
‘This is nothing compared to piggy-backing a plane-load of stores in a DC-3,’ she told Olivia when she eventually stirred. ‘At least there’s a comfortable seat this time.’”
Beatrix, Bea, was a Wasbie (Women’s Auxiliary Service – WAS(B) ) during WWII. Olivia is a young Aussie who lives in London, working (unpaid!) for an independent art dealer who has sent her to find a particular piece of artwork that Beatrix has offered for sale.
This is a three-timeline story, and it actually didn’t take me long to get into the rhythm of each. Although I read a preview copy on a Kindle, which doesn’t give me the advantage of blank pages and good physical paper breaks between chapters or sections, the author has made use of helpful introductions like:
There are a few reunions, but the main one is the one that Bea and Olivia are headed to on the ferry – the fifty-fifth reunion of the Wasbies of the Number fifty-five Canteen. The girls who joined up came from England, Australia, and India and drove trucks and canteens into the war zones in Asia for the soldiers.
”Bea had resigned herself to sitting out the war contributing nothing more than rolling bandages with her mother and – with precious little enthusiasm, it must be said – attending secretarial college, while her father and brother served in the British Indian Army.”.
Then she learned about the Wasbies, and she and pal Plum joined up and formed a close-knit group with Joy, Bubbles, and Lucy, a jill-of-all-trades from Australia.
“After lunch, they gathered outside again and presently a Jeep carrying the Lieutenant General pulled up. Captain Taylor stepped forward to salute him, and he shook the hand of each of the women in turn, exchanging a few words, asking them where they had come from and thanking them for their service.
‘Morale is one of the most underestimated factors in winning a war,’ he said as he faced them. ‘Never forget that you ladies are playing a big part in that. The sight of a cheerful face from home does more to support the war effort than you might realise.’”
They get their uniforms, their orders (Joy is in charge of that side of things), and start work. Basically, they are a travelling commissary. They make tea and sandwiches and more.
“When the women had arrived, the temperature was easily over eighty degrees as they prepared to serve hot tea, lukewarm lemonade and slabs of cake from the side of the mobile canteen. ‘Leave your hats there, chaps,’ said Joy, as they handed out drinks in return. ‘You’ll get them back when you bring back your mugs.’
There were gallons of tea, piles of bacon butties, trays of fudge and dozens of sheet cakes baked that morning by a team of Indian cooks. The floor-to-ceiling shelves were crammed with everything from razor blades, Macleans toothpaste and shaving cream, to cigarettes and Gold Flake tobacco, greasy leather bootlaces, even tins of Bird’s custard powder and Huntley & Palmers biscuits.”
The story alternates primarily between the Wasbies and Olivia working for the art dealer and meeting Bea. Olivia knows nothing of Bea’s wartime service – she knows only that Bea is selling her husband’s collection of Japanese art.
We are suspicious, because the book opens with ‘a girl’ in a museum, reaching into a cabinet and stealing the netsuke that were on display.
It was the work of a moment; a tiny revenge for a much graver crime.”
Nunn has done a terrific job of describing the dreadful conditions and the privations the Wasbies and soldiers suffered during the so-called Forgotten War. I am writing from Australia, and I’d suggest it certainly isn’t forgotten here. But I suppose Americans’ and Europeans’ knowledge of it may be based only on the film “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, but by golly that was back in 1957.
Today, we also have Richard Flanagan’s 2014 Booker-winning novel "The Narrow Road to the Deep North". I hope some younger generations have read that and realise how widespread (and absolutely dreadful) the war was in Asia.
The Monsoon scenes in the girls’ camps and trucks are wet and muddy and miserable, but when there are bigger buildings and halls, they sing and dance with the soldiers, boosting morale. Mostly, they are exhausted all the time. At the end of the war, they do what they can to help build the morale of the skeletal men who survived the Japanese POW camps and the Burma Railway. Horrifying stuff.
As we move between then and ‘now’ (1999), we gradually find out who, what, and where. Who’s falling in love, who’s shooting at enemy soldiers, who’s not going to make it home again.
This seems to be well-researched (but really, what would I know?) and the writing style will bring the story of the ‘Forgotten War’ to many readers who might otherwise never read about it.
Have you heard of the “Wasbies”? The Women’s Auxiliary Service of Burma (“Wasbies”) were an intrepid group of women who supported the 14th Army during WW2 by providing the troops with food and drink and boosting morale. I admit that this piece of WW2 history was new to me, and I applaud the author for bringing the service of these brave and resilient women to our attention. The Burma campaign is often referred to as the “forgotten war” because it did not garner as much attention as the events in Europe at the time, but with the creation of her five plucky female characters Bea, Plum, Bubbles, Joy and Lucy, Nunn has made sure that the women’s contribution to the war effort will be remembered.
THE LAST REUNION plays out in two separate timeframes, one during the Burma Campaign and one in the present time, as an older Beatrice is getting ready to meet her fellow ex-Wasbies for a reunion. I was pleased to find that I enjoyed each timeline equally as much, perhaps thanks to the character of Olivia, who stars as the enigmatic second lead in the present-tense timeline. This was further aided by providing the atmospheric setting of Beatrice’s rambling English mansion as a backdrop, serving as a crass contrast to the humid Burmese jungle the five women served in during the war. To connect the two timelines, the author uses a rare netsuke, a miniature Japanese sculpture, traditionally used to secure pouches or other items to kimonos, which were devoid of pockets. I had great fun looking up pictures of netsukes online, and they truly are works of art! And whilst Olivia’s ulterior motive may initially have been to secure the rare netsuke of the “fox girl” for her art dealer boss, she soon falls under Beatrice’s spell as she learns more about her history.
I really enjoyed Nunn’s writing and it is obvious that a lot of research has gone into her story as her characters are brimming with life. It was interesting to find out more about the Wasbies and the harsh life they endured so bravely on the frontier – a part of history that should never be forgotten.
THE LAST REUNION is a perfect example of the way that historical fiction should be written: brimming with interesting, enigmatic characters set against an atmospheric background. The writing just flowed and the characters soon had me in their spell. The details of the era seemed authentic and further enhanced my reading experience. Not only has Nunn mastered the art of bringing history to life, but she also achieved what many writers struggle with – to make each of her two timelines equally interesting. I really look forward to reading more from this author in future!
Top reviews from other countries
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 27 February 2022