Sisters Under the Rising Sun

Written by Heather Morris
Review by B. J. Sedlock

This is the harrowing story of a group of Australian, British and other expats, including nurses and children, who flee Singapore as the Japanese advance in 1942. A handful of survivors make it to Bangka Island after their ship is bombed but are massacred on the beach, while others become prisoners of the Japanese. For the next several years, the prisoners move from camp to camp, starved, given no medical help, and are treated brutally, such as being commanded to serve as “hostesses” to the Japanese guards. The women cope as best they can, forming an orchestra of voices to sing Beethoven and Ravel to provide a little beauty in their world. The only “medicine” they have are wet rags for fever patients. The guards give them vegetable cuttings to plant but, at harvest time, confiscate all the food. Children crawl under the guards’ huts to collect grains of rice that fall through the floorboards. As the war winds down, they are ruthlessly moved yet again while many die of malaria.

These events have been portrayed on screen before (Tenko and Paradise Road) but, not having seen either, I can’t compare them with this version. Saying I “enjoyed” the story doesn’t seem right given the hell the women went through, but I was certainly gripped by the tale, eager to find out how/whether they survived. Nearly as distressing as the women’s captivity was learning about society’s attitude after the survivors came home, as explained in the author’s note: they were told not to talk about their experiences, and any mention of sexual assault was suppressed, both by the authorities and the women themselves. The injustice of the women’s treatment and admiration for their ability to endure will stick with the reader for a long time. Recommended.