Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Pledge of Silence

Flora J. Solomon's book A Pledge of Silence won Amazon's 2014 Breakthrough Book Award, the prize being publication by Lake Union Press.

1936 finds Margie a typical Michigan small town girl, with a childhood sweetheart and dreams of becoming a New York City dress designer. Her mother has other ideas and encourages her daughter to become a nurse. Margie is accepted into medical school in Ann Arbor while her fiancée goes off to fighter pilot school.

After America enters WWII Margie is called to active service. She is shipped to the exotic Philippines. She is finally escaping her small town, but mother soon rues pushing her daughter into nursing.

Manila was the 'Pearl of the Orient', a splendid city created by 40 years of American occupation. After Margie's fiancée breaks off their engagement, Margie meets Royce, a handsome young doctor, and they become involved and fall in love. Her best friend Evelyn is seeing a doctor who is manipulative and devious. Rumors of rape follow his trail.

But the Japanese bomb the Allied military installations and take over the island. The soldiers are taken to Bataan of the infamous 'death march'  during which Royce is killed by the Japanese. The nurses are relocated to Corrigidor's underground hospital. When the Japenese reach Corrigidor the nurses and civilians are taken to Santo Tomas prison camp where they face starvation and depredation. Margie finds solace with Wade, also from Little River, Michigan, and after the war they plan to marry.

When the island is liberated by American troops Margie's ordeal is not over. What happens leaves as great, or greater, an impact on her psyche than even the POW camp and life in a war zone.
"An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior."
The first part of the book deals with Margie's roots and time in Manila as a hospital nurse during WWII. The second part follows her into a Prisoner of War camp. The third section shows Margie back home, married, and with children but suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and guilt. The ending shows how she finds help and reinvents her life.

The book keeps the reader going at a fast pace, especially after Margie arrives in Manila. Those unfamiliar with WWII in Southeast Asia will find this an eye-opening history lesson. I was uncertain about the relatively hands-off treatment of the women under the Japanese, but the POW experience is based on the author's research based on first-hand accounts. The Pledge of Silence was an actually paper POWs signed at liberation, and also refers to Margie's self-imposed silence to protect her family from knowing her dark secrets and deep pain.

This book will appeal to many readers, particularly women: those interested in historical fiction, strong female protagonists, issues of war related health issues. We follow Margie's many changes in the book, from a 16 year old to old age. She undergoes psychological treatment; turns to prayer; and finally organizing a food bank to fill her need to do something.

I found Margie and the nurses to be well drawn. The men in her life seemed more stock characters.I had expected that life at Santa Tomas would have been harsher. Lack of food and proper nutrition wore down the prisoner's health but there was little personal threat individually from the Japanese guards. I thought that Margie's reactions, as well as her veteran brother's, to readjusting to life back stateside had good emotional draw. Her crisis of self-imposed silence is poignant.  Perhaps the ending is a little too nicely wrapped up, but it is what the reader would want for this woman who has endured so much.

I received the free ebook through NetGalley for a fair and unbiased review.

A Pledge of Silence
Flora J. Solomon
Lake Union Press
Publication Date:February 24, 2015
$14.95 paperback
ISBN: 9781477820865

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