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"It was towards the middle of the year when my friends started disappearing."
I have read lots of memoirs, fiction and history about WWII in Europe but know less about Asia. The Blue Door is an account of a Norwegian family's internment by the Japanese in Indonesia.
Lise Gronn-Nielsen (she writes under a married name) was born in Java, Indonesia in 1934, the oldest of 3 children of Norwegian parents. Indonesia was then a Dutch colony and she writes of an idyllic and luxurious childhood, living in a big house with lots of servants and spending lots of time at swimming pools. She went to school with other European children, and remembers seeing Javanese children as young as six at work, making bricks, operating looms and pulling ploughs.
Then the Japanese invaded in 1942 and started interning Dutch and other European families. They came for Lise's family in 1943 - her father was taken somewhere else and Lise, her mother, her 7 year old sister, Karin, and her baby brother, Lasse, were taken to the first of several internment camps.
This is a moving and vivid account of a very grim existence from a child's viewpoint (though written in old age), but also of the bravery and spirit of a child in a dreadful situation. She learns to steal useful things from houses where families have been moved on (presumably to another camp), to kill flies and rats to earn sugar to supplement a very meagre diet and avoid starvation. Her mum and other adults try to keep some of the darkest secrets from her, but brutality and the deaths of other internees are frequently all too visible.
I was very impressed by the author's powers of recall of her dreadful experiences almost 70 years later. Much of the content is horrible, but she avoids well the pitfalls of the misery memoir. The Blue Door is well written (especially considering English is not her first language. There is only a little bit of the political and historical background to her story in the book - I know very little but looked some of it up online - but it is about what she perceived and experienced as a child, so this seems appropriate. There is a chapter about Lise's life since the camps, trying to resume normal family life back in Norway and what happened to everyone since, and she doesn't shy away from describing the after effects of the war on her mother. She also very clearly retains a lot of bitterness and anger, and expresses a wish to see a Japanese person without feeling these negative emotions but says she can't.
I would recommend this book for adults and teenagers with an interest in the history and experiences of those who lived through the war, and a different and unusual perspective on it.
This review was written for the Waterstones Cardholder scheme, through which I received a free copy. It is currently in hardback and ebook formats like Kindle.