Singapore has long been a strategic British colony but, as 1941 dawns, its residents are ill-prepared for what is about to happen. Among them is 17-year-old Victoria Khoo, a member of the elite Chinese merchant class that has always been fiercely loyal to Britain. Victoria lives in a mansion on exclusive Amber Road and thinks of herself as English. Obsessed with status and etiquette, she dreams of marrying her neighbour, Sebastian Boustead.
Sebastian becomes engaged to an English girl, Elizabeth, but Victoria is undeterred in her ambition to have him. As the Japanese invade, Victoria must use all her wiles just to survive.
A publisher’s media statement describes this book “to rival Gone with the Wind“, but the plot is unashamedly the same: a way of life changed forever; a woman who loses everything but is determined to regain both her family estate and a man who is wrong for her. Victoria has many of the recognisable characteristics of Scarlett O’Hara but is more shallow and naïve. There are aspects of Ashley and Melanie Wilkes in Sebastian and Elizabeth, and the enterprising Aussie soldier, Joseph Spencer, has all the raffish qualities of Rhett Butler. There are other nods to GWTW throughout; bizarrely, there’s even a Japanese officer named Ohara. And frankly, my dears, there are no surprises at the conclusion.
This derivative treatment distracted me too much to give the novel a high recommendation, but it is unlikely to bother those who are unfamiliar with GWTW, and there is still much to enjoy in its epic scope. The narrative is enhanced by the personal memoirs of Victoria’s likeable brother, George, and the rich detail on life in Singapore and Malaya under Japanese occupation and the growing threat of Communism will reward readers unfamiliar with historical events in this region.