Under the Java Moon: A Novel of World War II

Written by Heather B. Moore
Review by Waheed Rabbani

“Each night as the moon rises, look up at it, and I’ll do the same. Thinking of you and the children. Under the Java Moon,” says Dutch Navy engineer George Vischer to his pregnant wife, Mary, before departing Java for service on a minesweeper. In 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Holland also declares war on Japan.

Despite extensive defensive preparations, and fierce land and sea battles, the Japanese capture the Netherlands East Indies. The Dutch islanders are sent to POW camps. Among them are the Vischers—Mary, her mother, and her children, little Rita and Georgie. There they must endure the hardships of imprisonment in the overcrowded camp and face starvation and disease. Mary gives birth to a baby boy and, with Rita’s help, does her best to keep her family alive. Meanwhile, George’s ship is bombed, and he and some fellow seamen float helplessly on a raft. In order to survive, they must reach an island and evade capture by the Japanese.

Moore wrote this gripping novel after extensive research and discussions with Mary Vischer, her grandson, and good friends. The real stories add realism and appeal to the narrative. Furthermore, the inclusion of chapter notes and a bibliography provides an opportunity to further explore the events of that theater of WWII. The harsh handling of the prisoners in the POW camp is told bluntly and, although well known, the inhumane treatment by the Japanese is disturbing. The novel includes a good overview of the Dutch arrival and colonization of Indonesia. Although there is mention of the permuda—the Indonesian rebels—at the end of WWII, the coverage of their four-year struggle is light. Interested readers will need to learn of Indonesia’s independence elsewhere.