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June 2023 Book of the Month

Category: Library, Monthly Book Reviews

Nisha’s War by Dan Smith

This is a beautifully written and page turning historical novel. 

Set in 1942, at the peak of World War II, this story gives us a different, less well documented perspective of the war.  Nisha and her Indian mother arrive in England having fled their home in Malaya.  The Japanese are invading their island and so Nisha’s English father makes sure they get safe passage on board the ship, The Empire Hope, to England.  On arrival, they make their way to another, quite different island, Barrow Island, in the north of England.  It’s grey, rocky and unwelcoming but it’s the family home of Nisha’s father, who has remained in Malaya.  Only women and children were allowed on board The Empire Hope and so Nisha has no idea if her father is dead or alive. 

Nisha’s grandmother is cold and resents their presence, still upset that her son didn’t marry a nice, white, English girl.  Haunted by the things she has seen in Singapore and worried about her mum, who is now seriously ill after the journey, Nisha feels lost and alienated.  Whilst out exploring the island she meets a ghost boy, Twig, who promises that he can help her parents, if only she can find three treasures for him before the full moon.  Interwoven with the search for the treasures are Nisha’s diary entries, through which we experience the atrocities of war. 

I loved reading Nisha’s diary entries (her truth).  They were evocative and powerful and I found myself drawing parallels with recent images I’ve seen in Ukraine.  The language is haunting, particularly when describing the wilderness of the island and the power of the weather and the water that surrounds it.  This is a book I couldn’t put down.  That final third, when the full moon arrives, and the race to find the final treasure is on, is particularly compelling.  I haven’t enjoyed a book as much in a long time.

For fans of Emma Carroll and stories based on true events.

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