The Promise of Rain

Written by Donna Milner
Review by Victoria Lyle

This is a moving novel about family, love and war. It is split between the viewpoint of an 11-year-old girl, Ethie, in 1962, trying to cope with her mother Lucy’s sudden and bizarre death, and that of her father, Howard, as a soldier and POW in Hong Kong twenty years earlier.

Howard’s transformation from innocent young prairie boy to war veteran is convincing and heartbreaking. The sense of foreboding that pervades the soldiers’ triumphant arrival in Hong Kong tinges the initial colourful scenes with irony and sadness. The recounting of the cruelties that the POWs endured is appropriately appalling and upsetting. The different ways in which they suffer when they get home is also poignant.

Howard does not talk about his war experiences; to Ethie he is a silent and absent figure who finds solace in drink. However, when Lucy dies, Howard is forced to confront his past and his responsibilities to his grieving family.

The “mystery” surrounding Lucy’s death and Howard’s “secret” were not what drove the narrative for me. I enjoyed the human relationships: between comrades, lovers and siblings. Although some characters, such as Ethie’s Aunt Mildred, felt a little one‑dimensional, others, such as Gordy and Ah Sam, were original and endearing. Ethie’s brother, Kipper, who has Downs Syndrome, particularly stands out as a unique and strong personality who ties the family and the plot together.

A child’s grief for their mother and the experiences of a POW are weighty and difficult subjects to deal with, but I think Milner succeeds in conveying both believably and affectingly. I cared about the characters, was interested in what had happened to them and wanted to know how things would turn out.