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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 March 2008
I admire Keneally's Boker prize-winning book. 'Schindler's Ark' (on which the film 'Schindler's List' was based). This, however, is better, I think. Grace, the 'Widow', tells her husband's and her own story. Immediately you learn of his death, messily, by execution at the hands of the Japanese. Then the background of their relationship, his gruelling training in the IRD (Independent Reconnaissance Department), his friendships with Roland Mortmain and Charley Doucette ('The Boss') and the deadly missions on which they were sent, largely devising them themselves, are explored in the first half of the book. After their capture and deaths, Grace has to come to terms with living on, and she makes the necessary human compromises to do so, but the past returns significantly to disturb and distress her, feeding her new information which forces her to revise and adjust the version of events with which she has made that pact that ensures her unquiet peace. This is a painful, sometime agonising process.
It also provides a novel which constantly surprises the reader. The book is a very good read, part adventure story, part exploration of a number of interesting relationships, principally that of Grace and Leo, part investigation of the psychological complexity of Grace's situation after her beloved Leo's death. It is beautifully and quite economically written and often, towards the end, very moving. It examines events that were quite new to me, and though the book is a work of fiction, Keneally acknowledges in his preface that actual operations against Singapore from Australia do provide a historical parallel to his story. I have only one criticism, and it is a minor one. Everything is convincing to me except the manner in which the final revelations, necessary to the plot and our understanding of the men's ultimate motives, is conveyed (this concerns a kind of journal written by Leo). Keneally needs to get that information across ; I did wonder whether, in reality, it is possible to accept the manner in which this is done as plausible and ignore the suspicion that it is a convenient device for the novelist's requirements. But I mention that only because it was in my mind. The book remains very impressive, very enjoyable, and very well worth reading.
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on 15 March 2013
Received this book very quickly, the story is good and the story itself is well balance and easy to understand what's been happened. Really I can't put the book down, everytime I stop to do the chores, my mind is on that book and had to read it. Overall I recommend the book to anyone who is a book reader.
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on 5 December 2015
Not up to Keneally's standard.
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on 16 June 2013
Good book but the condition of this used book was not great. All the pages were yellow. The book itself was a good read.
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on 10 October 2013
I bought this as a present as i had read it and liked it a lot. it is based in Australia and set in WW2.
It arrived promptly and in good condition.
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on 11 October 2009
completely misleading cover picture.[MILLS AND BOONE}.one of the best books ive read in ages.very good page turner.read it in two sittings.
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on 23 August 2010
We know from the start that Grace is the widow, and Leo her hero. Through flashbacks we follow Grace and Leo's lives from courting, early marriage, and on to their wartime experiences. Leo is involved in undercover sabotage missions. He does not come back from one, and Grace learns that he is missing presumed dead, but has to keep this quiet due to the sensitivity of the mission. On later learning that he is indeed dead, she accepts widowhood with dignity.

In time, the story behind the failed mission, and Leo's death, become known. Life is turned upside down, and all involved are badly affected.

Like all Keneally's novels, this is unputdownable - absolutely riveting!
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on 29 May 2008
I should make my biases clear right at the start: my paternal family had a very bad time under the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II. Because of what they suffered, I have given a lot of thought to the consequences of atrocities, and to the reliability of evidence.

We know from the start that Leo gets killed; the story is really about Grace, his widow, and how she finds out what happened to him and how she copes with that knowledge. I think the novel catches the tempo of the times very well: anyone who has read about the Fall of Malaya and Singapore in 1941/42 will be familiar with sequences of military cock-ups. Grace's reluctance to hear any more about what happened to her husband and to have to re-jig, yet again, the narrative she has set up in her head, is also very true to life. As the other reviewer commented, it's beautifully written. The characterisation is good, the scene setting quick and clear. It engages both the mind and the emotions.

So why four stars and not five? Well, in real life eyewitness accounts have a nasty habit of disagreeing, and you are left wondering who to believe: it's not just a case of accepting adjustments to the story, but working out exactly what those adjustments ought to be. Here, one eyewitness backs up another, or adds to the overall fund of information. More worryingly, the novel almost implies that once Grace dies, this atrocity will just about be over - though her grandaughter from her second marriage will remember it. In real life, it's not like that: the horror spreads out like ripples in a pool, across families and down the generations. Whenever any army, anywhere, commits atrocities, I can see the consequences knocking on for years. That's a pretty big lesson but, sadly, this novel fails to draw it out.
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on 21 April 2011
Set in Australia and around the Pacific during the second world war, this is a book which confronts the ideals of heroism and masculinity in wartime through a widow's grief at the death of her young husband. We witness the horrible wartime executions in the opening chapter so this isn't a page-turner in the traditional sense where we're racing to find out what happens - instead it's a meditation on the aftermath of self-sacrifice, and the uncovering of the lies and operational mishaps which lead to the deaths.

This is an intelligent and moving book: on one hand the text itself heroises the behaviour of the men involved in war-time operations in the Pacific, and yet, on the other, it offers the idea that they wasted their lives, and were liberated from the burden of masculine conventions through their deaths.

So overall this is a thoughtful and meditative read which asks lots of questions to which there are no easy answers. Grace, the narrator, has her own view but, interestingly, I'm not sure that it's one which the text itself supports. For such a short book, this is resonant and haunting.
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on 10 May 2007
In the Western world, there is a long-standing tradition of the warrior-husband. He leaves home on some notable quest, urged to "return bearing his shield or lying on it". If he's on the shield, the assumption is that he died with honour during the quest. His wife is duty-bound to respect his venture and accept without murmur whatever Fate has dealt him. In this latest version of the Odyssean saga, Leo Waterhouse has left his wife, Grace, more than once. The first venture brought about the marriage. The second, only mystery and regret. In the hands of Tom Keneally, the story provides some new twists and he deals with them skilfully. A master storyteller, Keneally has lost nothing of his writing ability over time, as this fine addition to "war stories" shows.

Grace Waterhouse, in her nineties at the time of telling, has a woman's natural scepticism about heroism. Being abandoned isn't her idea of marriage, yet she cannot quell her admiration for her husband, Leo. He is a volunteer on a dangerous mission - sink Japanese shipping in Singapore harbour. The team he's with has done it once, will a second go be as successful? Grace has some help as she reminisces about Leo's ventures. There are those who followed events from the sidelines - the military base brass. More importantly, there are those visitors Grace has ambivalence about. She wants to revere Leo's memory, and she doesn't want it blemished by stories that might sully it. A sullied shield lacks proper honour for a hero. Finally, there is Leo's prison diary, scribbled on toilet paper in the solitude of his cell.

Grace also has a book about the quest. "The Sea Otters" by a British ["Pom"] journalist, Tom Lydon. Lydon's own quest is for information, and in his own way, he's heroic in its pursuit. There are questions of what happened, including whether precipitate action might have betrayed the mission. Grace is continually torn between her current life, blessed with a husband whose kind understanding allows her to keep Leo's presence alive without resentment. Those recollections are always present, yet they are incomplete. In the beginning, she knows only that Leo is gone, executed by the Japanese. The details of his journey to that end have eluded her. Those in government, who should have the records, aren't forthcoming with further information. She's urged to cherish the memories and not attempt to delve too deeply further. Is there something hidden she ought to know?

Heroism is the running theme throughout this story. Grace accepts it, but only up to a point. She's had many years to assess its worth and those who are deemed heroic. Leo's team leader, Charlie Doucette is the consummate "man of action". Doucette drives his group, training, learning new skills, some in novel devices - little two-man "folboats" and treacherous little one-man submarines, "Silver Bullets", developed by the British. Each new tool forces each of the men to give their utmost. They respond to the Boss' leadership, willingly following him in their dangerous, and often gruesome jaunt into Japanese waters. Doucette becomes a hero out of the classics. Consciously or not, Odysseus is his model, and he makes every effort to live up to it.

Keneally builds his story with even more finesse than in some of his earlier work. Adopting a woman's voice is bound to raise the tiresome issue of "cross-gender" writing. Keneally manages this task with aplomb. After all, he's done it before in "Woman of the Inner Sea". Here, he's aided by the times Grace lives in - the limited role of a wife in the 1940s, her repressed upbringing and the stiff mores of the era. Grace notes how free and uninhibited her granddaughter Rachel lives. As the tale unfolds, her view of heroism becomes tarnished, moving to that of loathing the concept. She becomes aware that Leo's loss was "of little purpose". At the end, all she seeks is justice, an elusive ideal at any time, nearly absent in war. Especially a secret war. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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