Rose Among Thornes

Written by Terrie Todd
Review by Jon G. Bradley

Spanning the seminal years from the commencement of World War II until the repatriation of Canadian POWs, this emotionally charged novel charts two parallel stories. One concentrates on Russell Thorne, a young Canadian soldier who entered captivity on Christmas Day in 1941 with the fall of Hong Kong. The other follows Canadian-born Japanese teenager Rose Onishi who finds herself, with her family, uprooted from Vancouver and settled as forced farmworkers in Manitoba.

Both have lost everything, personal freedom being the most devastating. While Rose is not beaten, locked behind barbed wire, or daily threatened with instant death, she is nonetheless insulted, demeaned, and left pining for her lost future. Her family has adopted “shikata ga nai” as their mantra. In a literary twist, the Thornes are the farm family worried for their prisoner son; hence, both Russell and Rose are now on unanticipated convergent paths.

Russell is a prisoner of the Japanese while Rose is equally confined. The reader experiences the deprivations experienced by the POWs with the brutality of this confinement graphically narrated. On the other hand, the personal hatred directed to Rose and her family by the outside community is equally shocking. Over time, by necessity, both Russell and Rose adopt individual routines that pass the time and offer as much safety, emotional and physical, as reality permits.

There is a heavy religious undercurrent as both Russell and Rose each seek solace in their own Christian faith as a bulwark against the ills they are experiencing. Furthermore, via sporadic Red Cross letters, Russell and Rose communicate and a tentative illusionary bond develops over the confinement years. A dramatic ending ties some threads. There are no smooth resolutions; rather, ones filled with anger and suspicion, but also redemption and hope for a better future.