> Skip to content

Will keeping the Japanese, Korean and Italian POWs of the Second World War alive in Australia keep Australian POWs alive and well wherever they are?

Will keeping the Japanese, Korean and Italian POWs of the Second World War alive in Australia keep Australian POWs alive and well wherever they are?

In the spirit of The Daughters of Mars, Tom Keneally’s new novel brilliantly explores the intimacies of ordinary lives being played out against momentous world events.

In Gawell, New South Wales, a prisoner-of-war camp to house European, Korean and Japanese captives is built close to a farming community. Alice is a young woman living a dull life with her father-in-law on his farm while her new husband first fights, then is taken prisoner, in Greece. When Giancarlo, an Italian POW and anarchist from Gawell’s camp, is assigned to work on their farm, Alice’s view of the world and her self-knowledge are dramatically expanded.

But what most challenges Alice and the town is the foreignness of the Japanese compound and its culture, entirely perplexing to the inmates’ captors. Driven by a desperate need to validate the funerals already held for them in Japan, the prisoners vote to take part in an outbreak, and the bloodshed and chaos this precipitates shatter the certainties and safeties of all who inhabit the region.

Reviews

If the legendary Schindler’s List was not enough to showcase Thomas Keneally’s literary mastery, then Shame and the Captives surely will. It is clear from the start how thorough are Keneally’s research and cultural understanding; and he showcases them with brilliant, masterful writing. Shame and the Captives is an example of fine writing that has the power to entice modern readers and those interested in the truthful reflection of the human spirit, no matter the place, culture or generation.

Nina Lin, New York Daily News

I’ve read only a dozen or so of the 30 or more novels Keneally has written. This is at least as good as any of them, and better, I should say, than Schindler’s Ark. he narrative is gripping, slow-moving but absorbing for the first half and more of the novel, then fast-moving, exciting and appalling. The account of the break-out is horrifying, and one can’t think it could have been better done. Keneally is not a novelist who stints on action. Here he has made a remarkable, and largely successful attempt to get into the minds of people very different from himself, surely one of the marks of the true novelist. Tengan and his colleagues might, in the hands of a lesser novelist, have seemed absurd in their obsession with shame and their cult of death: Keneally’s imaginative understanding of them makes Tengan strangely sympathetic. This is a remarkable achievement.

Allan Massie, The Scotsman

Then he turns, with a virtuosity he has rarely matched, to giving us - through select, concentrated detail - a sense of the wider lives of the participants in this story, for all that our acquaintance with them is partial. Keneally's gift, and his blessing to the many hundreds of characters he has created, is always to find the extraordinary within the ordinary. Each of them rises out of and above their varying backgrounds: the class, religion, ambition that mark but do not define them. The title of the novel, Shame and the Captives, has a deliberate ambiguity and a measure of awkwardness that makes us pause to consider the moral complexity of yet another of Keneally's grand entertainments.

Peter Pierce, The Australian

He gives vivid human faces to the victims and the perpetrators of war. He weaves his magic and the reader falls under his spell. Keneally negotiates the separate and intertwining narratives with his usual elegance and skill.

Carmel Bird, The Guardian

No one equals Keneally for documenting the actions of human beings caught up in war, some desperate to hold onto their humanity, others desperate to die.

Publishers Weekly

Here, as in The Daughters of Mars and other relatively recent novels, there is an intelligence and a mastery of conventional modes of narrative. Shame and the Captives entertains and informs, and that alone is a considerable achievement.

Andrew Riemer, The Age

Keneally is, of course, famous for his ability to put a human face on both perpetrators and victims of war, but this novel excels in its haunting portrayal of not just individuals, but of the yawning chasm between the cosmologies they inhabit.

Bron Sibree, The West Australian

Beautifully written.

Jennifer Lyons, The Examiner, Launceston

At its most basic, Shame and the Captives is a retelling of the Cowra breakout. Something which was long overdue. But it is much more than that. Keneally cleverly (and effortlessly) divides his story into many sub stories and embeds his reader into each one. We mingle with Japanese POWs, hear their stories, feel their shame and share their frustrations; we are sent out to the farms as labourers with the Italian POWs; we wait out the war far from the frontlines with the British and Australian camp guards and officers; we share in the guilt and confusion of a woman who's trying to remember her captured husband's face whilst an attractive Italian POW labours away for her father-in-law in the sun outside her window. All the while trouble brews. We know the story of the Cowra breakout. We have never had it told like this.

John Purcell, Booktopia Buzz

Like all good historical fiction we are reminded that history does not happen to others in some remote place, history happens to all of us and every day. All in all a really enjoyable novel, I read in two days eager to find out how it all ended, even though I knew exactly how it was going to end. If you are a Tom Keneally fan expect the usual: well researched, multilayered novel on a fascinating topic where ordinary people take center stage. Shame and the Captives is also a kind of book that will probably make you want to discover a little bit more about this tragic episode in both Australian and Japanese history.

Anna O'Grady, The Reading Room

Shame and the Captives is a thought-provoking book that seems very timely. This year is the anniversary of the beginning of 'the war to end all wars'. There will be no escaping the memorialising of that conflict. But in this book, set in the somnolent winter sunshine of western NSW, Keneally has captured a side of military conflict that is rarely explored in historical novels set in wartime.

Lisa Hill, ANZ Lit Lovers

The writing is meticulous and utterly unshowy. The slumbrous, dour rhythms of country life and the mordant Aussie patois are just right. Individual relationships, homicidal or homely, counterpoint the public moments of tumult and fanaticism. It's a story that gathers momentum like a landslide. And, as usual with Keneally, it's rich with meditations on human failings and yearnings.

David Hill, NZ Herald

His incredible facility as a teller of tales, is undimmed. Rich, complex, deeply empathetic novel. Along the fault-lines of this violent event, Keneally locates his compelling study of the cultural differences of nations brought into conflict by war. Shame and the Captives is a tremendously accomplished novel, rich in character, detail and incident. It is the work of a master novelist who shows no sign of slowing down, and for this we should be grateful.

Kevin Power, The Sunday Business Post, Ireland

We are all prisoners, Keneally is telling us, of culture, relationships, the past. It is a tribute to his consummate skill as a fabricator of fiction that the final, apocalyptic shattering of the mirror feels inevitable.

Independent

An Australian prisoner-of-war camp in 1943 is the unexpectedly rich setting for Thomas Keneally’s intriguing new novel, based – like his best-selling Schindler’s Ark – on real events… Keneally skilfully weighs broad cultural questions against the concerns of the soldiers and community… In a supremely dramatic ending, it is impossible to guess the fate of any of the characters.

Mail on Sunday

Keneally shares his deeply believable and flawed characters' conflicting perspectives sensitively and with great empathy,expressing the full range of humanity in a few hundred pages. He does an extraordinary job of making all his characters compelling and sympathetic, with fully formed back stories, even those whose perspectives are likely to be the most "foreign" to the reader…. Keneally blends history, romance and wartime intrigue in a remarkable piece of historical fiction with a strong sense of place and time.

Kirkus (starred review)

Once again, Keneally reaches back to the WWII era to stunningly dramatic effect...explores multiple and multifaceted themes of courage, loyalty, empathy, and cultural dissonance.

Booklist

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Paperback

    9780857981004

    November 3, 2014

    Vintage Australia

    400 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Hardback

    9780857980984

    November 1, 2013

    Knopf Australia

    400 pages

    RRP $45.00

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Trade Paperback

    9780857980991

    November 1, 2013

    Vintage Australia

    400 pages

    RRP $32.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9780857981011

    November 1, 2013

    Random House Australia

    400 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Also by Tom Keneally

The Daughters Of Mars
The Unmourned
Crimes of the Father
The Soldier's Curse
Napoleon's Last Island
The Place at Whitton
A Country Too Far: Teacher's Edition
The Great Australian Writers' Collection 2013
A Country Too Far
Bring Larks and Heroes:Text Classics
Three Famines
The People's Train
Searching For Schindler
Three Cheers For The Paraclete
The Widow And Her Hero
The Commonwealth Of Thieves
Roos In Shoes
The Tyrant's Novel
An Angel In Australia
American Scoundrel
Bettany's Book
The Great Shame
Jacko

Recommendations

The Handmaid's Tale
To Kill A Mockingbird
A Gentleman in Moscow
Echo Burning
Best Laid Plans
The Heart's Invisible Furies
The Girl on the Train
Dragonfly In Amber
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time
The Golden Age
The Golden House
Swing Time
The Bear and The Nightingale
The Mistress
The Girls
Tiger Men
Fifty Shades Darker
The Secret Vineyard
Ready Player One