When Vijay Balan was a young boy, his father would regale him with stories inspired by family history. One of these centered around Balan’s grand-uncle, a police officer in 1920s and early 1930s India who later went on to Singapore and became a spy for the Japanese military during World War II. Balan has turned this tale into his first novel, The Swaraj Spy. The title refers to the Hindustani word for self-rule, and it’s this wish that drives the main character, Kumaran “Kumar” Nair. The book is less a mass market spy thriller and more of a character-driven story of a man who hopes to do right by his family and country. 

Steve Kemper’s Our Man in Tokyo is the second book in three years to deliver fulsome praise on the untiring yet unsuccessful effort by Joseph Grew, the US Ambassador to Japan in the 1930s and early 1940s, to avoid a war between the US and Japan. Like Lew Paper’s 2019 In the Cauldron, Kemper’s book depicts Grew as an unheralded diplomatist trying to avoid armageddon, while portraying policymakers in Tokyo and Washington as stubbornly blundering into war. 

In early 1992, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew gave a public statement about the dark years of World War 2, namely that Korean comfort women kept Singapore women from suffering the same sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese military. This one statement, as Nanyang Technological University professor Kevin Blackburn writes in his new book, The Comfort Women of Singapore in History and Memory, was not only inaccurate but further cemented an unwelcoming environment for former Singapore comfort women to break their silence about the trauma they experienced during WW2.

Memoirs and biographies of prisoners of war during World War II are not uncommon, but accounts of women POWs remain relatively rare. In Women Interned in World War Two Sumatra: Faith, Hope and Survival, Barbara Coombes tells the story of two British women who were captured by the Japanese military after they tried to leave Singapore by boat a couple months after the city came under attack. They were sent to POW camps on Sumatra. Coombes’s book almost reads like a first-hand account because she includes many pieces of poetry, letters, and sketches from the two women she portrays. 

The fighting on Borneo during World War II is often forgotten because in the larger picture of the Pacific War it was relatively insignificant compared to the battles in New Guinea, the Philippines, and smaller islands of the central Pacific and southwest Pacific. The fighting on Borneo occurred near the end of the war between March and September 1945. Most of the heavy fighting took place on the small island of Tarakan, along the east coast near Balikpapan, and in Northern Borneo along the coast near Laubuan. 

India’s Andaman Islands, closer to Burma than India itself, share with Britain’s Channel Islands, closer to France than Britain itself, the (perhaps dubious) distinction of being the rare if not only parts of the larger polity to have been occupied by Axis forces during the Second World War. Japan invaded the Andamans in March 1942, which fell (much like the Channel Islands) with hardly a shot fired. Unlike the Channel Islands, however, the Andamans, home to a notorious prison for political prisoners, largely poverty-stricken and under a particularly oppressive colonial administration, was not a happy place before occupation.