1942: Clair and Shep Durant, along with their mute four-year-old son, Ty, wait for evacuation to India before the imminent Japanese invasion of the remote Andaman Islands. Shep, a doctor, and Claire, a budding anthropologist, scramble with last-minute tasks while Naila, the thirteen-year-old island girl who has taken on the role of nanny, tends to Ty. But when the time to board arrives, Ty and Naila cannot be found. Shep forces Claire to sail on the boat for Calcutta and remains in Port Blair to find his son. A few days later the Japanese seize the Andamans before Shep and Ty can evacuate.
Claire, desperate for news of her husband and son, uses the ethnographic skills she honed working with the Biya to develop a code based on the tribal language she had studied in the Andamans. Eventually she becomes part of a secret reconnaissance team headed back to the islands, but once there, will she find her son? And her husband?
This lyrical narrative takes the reader on a sweeping emotional and physical journey, exploring themes of endurance, love, sacrifice, motherhood, guilt, and hope. Set against a ravaging world war that continually tests people’s strengths and their ability to remain human in the midst of unspeakable odds, this well-researched and absorbing book transports the reader. Basing her work on a true historical incident, Liu has taken a little-known episode from WWII and transformed it into a moving and transcendent narrative. Recommended.