While the Second World War may have concluded more than seventy years ago, new stories from that era continue to pop up, even now. Paul French’s new book, Strangers on the Praia: A Tale of Refugees and Resistance in Wartime Macao, tells the little-known history of Jewish refugees in Shanghai that fled to the neutral Portuguese enclave.
The title of Roberto Carmack’s book is a bit misleading, as is the book’s cover, which shows two helmeted and uniformed soldiers in battle. The book is part of the Modern War Studies series, but its focus is on the administrative, institutional and ideological aspects of war in the Kazakh Republic of the Soviet Union during the Second World War. It is more sociology than military history.
Reminiscent of the tone and atmosphere of Somerset Maugham and George Orwell’s Asia-set novels, Glorious Boy is a Second World War story of adventure and loss, uniquely set in the Andaman Islands, one of India’s farthest flung territories.
The story of the Jewish refugees in Asia during World War II almost always centers on Shanghai. Plenty of books, movies, and plays tell how twenty thousand German and Eastern European Jews found their way to Shanghai when most of the world had closed their borders to Jews. But there was another place in Asia that also took in Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and Poland in the late 1930s: the Philippines.
Lew Paper’s new book In the Cauldron charts the diplomatic road to Pearl Harbor, mostly through the eyes of the then-US Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew. Paper portrays Grew as a voice crying in the wilderness, showing the way to peace when everyone around him in official circles in both Japan and the United States drifted towards war.
It is 1931 in colonial Singapore. A Chinese bondmaid of fifteen stands trial for her aunt’s murder. Mei Mei, born on the inauspicious double seventh day, feels her doomed destiny taking over.
This year Singapore celebrates its bicentennial, or rather, the 200th anniversary of the founding of the colonial city. Because of this milestone, there has been considerable soul-searching about the role of history in creating a people and WW2 naturally comes to mind. The war was not only one of the most traumatic episodes in the city’s history, but it was also one that catalyzed the unraveling of empire resulting in both independence and the trajectory it took.