East of West, West of East
by Hamish Brown
This extraordinary book tells the story of a remarkable family caught in Japan at the outbreak of the Second World War in the Pacific. With letters, journal extracts and notes from Hamish Brown’s parents, as well as his own recollections, it brings the era to life: not only life in the dying days of the British Empire, but also the terrible reality of the invasion of Singapore into which they escaped.
I actually didn’t realise that this was going to be non-fiction when I started, I thought I was about to fall into a WW2 family adventure. Not being an avid fan of non-fiction myself, this made me a little skeptical to start yet I soon found that the story within these pages is so fascinating and varied that at times you could be fooled into believing it was fiction.
Brown tells his family’s story through a number of letters and memories he’s kept hold of all these years.
The letters are mostly from his mother and elder brother, Ian. Unfortunately the letters we get to read are always one sided and we never get to hear the response – of course the letters had to reach long distances during war time so they didn’t always recieve one, let alone keep it. While of course I appreciate that you wouldn’t want to replicate or invent a piece in place of a response, I did feel that I was missing half of the story and I wasn’t able to truly engage in the letters’ content. I skipped a couple of lines about the mundane things that didn’t really interest me and didn’t care much for some of the finer details, like growing shoe sizes or the ages of children who attended a birthday party.
Brown’s father’s memories were more engaging for me and his accounts were filled with the details of war that I was after. I particularly enjoyed hearing how dedicated to his job and employees he was and his drawing of a ship he travelled on was a nice touch. I think Brown helped to paint a lovely picture of his father through these memories.
A lot of this book wasn’t for me, it just isn’t my kind of style. The parts I did enjoy the most were actually the comments from Hamish himself. Notes about how his family felt or oddities that happened around that time. Family photos helped with this too and it helped make things feel a little less like a textbook or compulsory GCSE reading.
My favourite part of all comes at the very end:
“Perhaps the best place to be living is the present. Not that we should forget while grandparents still remember. Our today springs from what they did, and who they were, then.”
Overall rating: A small peek into the family life of Hamish Brown during WW2. It’s full of interesting detail which will bring back memories for many people. This isn’t really my kind of thing, but there were parts I enjoyed and I’ll be passing this book on to those who it would be better suited for – it’s 3 stars from me.
Thank you to Sandstone Press for sending me this pre-release copy.