She came so close I could see a mole above her lip. She spat/ A glob landed on the window in front of my face.
‘Bloody Japs!’ she said, shaking her fist.
The train groaned as it moved away. The woman became smaller till she was no more than a pale slip, but I could still see her face. Eyes narrowed, mouth tight – her features twisted with hate.
It is 1942 and Japan has entered the second war against the allies. Tomokazu Ibaraki, who has been working as a doctor in Broome, finds himself a prisoner of war, interned with other Japanese men in remote South Australia. Here he works in the infirmary and lives in close quarters with men of Japanese heritage with a range of backgrounds\, including a group of men who were born in Australia and see themselves as Australian. He finds friends but he is also confronted with the difficulties of a life in confinement, and with the dilemma of which men are actually his friends, and which have darker sides to their natures.
While he deals with his present, Dr Inaraki must also confront his past, a past peppered with personal tragedy and dilemmas created by promises he made. Coming to Australia was supposed to offer a chance for redemption – to leave that life behind and build something new, but events in the internment camp force him to revisit things he would rather forget.
After Darkness, the winner of this year’s Vogel Award, is a haunting debit novel about friendship, loyalty, and the promises. Ibaraki is a man of honour who is believably flawed in his inability to find a way through difficult situations he finds himself in, yet is ultimately a likeable character with whom it is easy to sympathise.
Set amidst the backdrop of World War II, and the years prior, the story offers an insight into historical events with which many readers would be unfamiliar. A haunting read.
After Darkness, by Christine Piper
Allen & Unwin, 2014
Available from good bookstores and online.