The Bungalow by Sarah Jio is another wonderful tale from the South Pacific. In 1942, 21-year-old Anne, born into an affluent Seattle family and engaged to a bank’s VP, is having second thoughts about her betrothal; she believes her fiancé is not passionate enough. When she learns that her best friend, Kitty, wishes to do “something of great meaning” with her life and has joined the Nursing Corps to serve in the South Pacific, Anne decides to postpone her wedding and follow Kitty.
The nurses arrive in Bora-Bora, and immediately Kitty is flirting, starting with the colonel and then the corporals. Anne is more cautious, but one enchanted evening, while strolling on a deserted beach, she meets a soldier, Westry. They discover an abandoned bungalow and decide to renovate it. Eventually they fall in love and are soon making happy-talk and more in the hut. However, their paradisiacal life is shattered when they view a macabre murder on the beach. Anne’s dreams crumble like sandcastles on the seashore and, not unlike the barrier reefs around Bora-Bora, she faces several impediments; it takes her nearly a lifetime to resolve the resulting issues.
Jio, unlike earlier authors, hasn’t delved too deeply into class and racial prejudices of that era but has done a superb job of pulling together the themes of friendship, betrayal, and endearing love. These keep us engrossed in the novel to an unpredictable conclusion. However, some plot twists, such as at the novel’s start when Anne receives a letter after 70 years from Bora-Bora, might tax the imagination of some readers. Nevertheless, Jio’s first person Hemingway-ish writing style, like her The Violets of March (judged by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 2011), is a pleasure to read.