Of War and Suffering.

Bamboo Heart by Ann Bennett. Photo by Bamboo Heart Co. UK.
Bamboo Heart by Ann Bennett. Photo by Bamboo Heart Co. UK.

I don’t normally read books that would give me vivid dreams and sleepless nights. This is proof of how I watch my movies too. I don’t normally watch movies that give me nightmares and cause me to frantically rush to and from the bathroom, and pray that when I use the sink, I won’t catch a glimpse of something staring back at me in the mirror. Brrr, just thinking about it gives me the shivers now.

Before this, the genres of books that I’ve always read were mostly fantasy fiction and the occasional bestseller. Strange literary bestselling fiction titles. The Autograph Man, The Good Lord Bird, and Eat, Pray, Love. These did not leave me with any difficulties falling asleep at nights. One day, I caught my sister reading a book by Khalid Hosseini. The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. They were good books written by a great author, according to her. So I ended up reading both, cringing at every chapter where the main characters were mercilessly tortured. Oddly, I enjoyed the books. Not because I enjoyed it at the expense of the characters’ lonely lives but because of the way they were written. And that got me to exiting bookstores and warehouse sales with stacks of books dating back to the war periods and when mankind has yet to learn about the humanity of others.

Since the years of Khalid Hosseini, I’ve read books on World War II during the reign of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi war generals, Kristallnacht and the invasion of Poland, Germany and France. I’ve also read books on World War II in Asia, when the Malayan states fell into the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army. And ever since then, I’ve had nights when my sleep was troubled by the things I’ve read and what tricks my mind played on me every time I closed my eyes. But I have to say that I learnt a lot more on history than I did in school. Then, there was the period when I just had to stop buying those books for the sake of my sanity and my mental state whenever I tried to sleep.

Still, something drew me back into its gnarled and deathly pages. No matter how hard I tried to stay away from those books, I felt myself drawn even stronger back into its chapters and now, here I am again with those WWII titles. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, All The Light We Couldn’t See by Anthony Doerr, and the latest Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (which was turned into a major motion picture), The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and Bamboo Heart by Ann Bennett (what I’m currently reading now). So, here I am, back again with these nightmarish titles and a whole lot more of sleepless nights.

I bought Bamboo Heart on a whim at Border’s. Honestly, if I’d known that it was Volume One out of three volumes, I would not have bought it at all. Because this means that once I’m done with the book, I’ll have to get back out there among the hordes of other readers just to look for the continuation and pray that the bookstore has enough stock of the titles that I want. I’ve read one fourth of the book so far and it isn’t so much of a bloodfest as the previous war titles I’ve owned. This one is probably more psychological than it is gory. Which is a good thing too as I’d like to spare my brain and my mental state as much as I can.

Book synopsis, courtesy of Ann Bennett’s website:

Thailand, 1943: Thomas Ellis, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore, is a prisoner-of-war on the Death Railway. In stifling heat, he endures endless days of clearing jungle, breaking stone and lugging wood. He must stay alive, although he is struck down by disease and tortured by Japanese guards, and he must stay strong, although he is starving and exhausted. For Tom has made himself a promise: to return home. Not to the grey streets of London, where he once lived, but to Penang, where he found paradise and love.

London, 1986: Laura Ellis, a successful City lawyer, turns her back on her yuppie existence and travels to Southeast Asia. In Thailand and Malaysia she retraces her father’s past and discovers the truths he has refused to tell her. And in the place where her father once suffered and survived, she will finally find out how he got his Bamboo Heart.

This is a story of a soldier’s strength and survival in the bleakest of times and a daughter’s journey of discovery about her father and herself.

Bamboo Heart is Volume One in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road. I’d recommend this for history buffs and readers who are interested in reading a mixture of facts and fiction. Otherwise, I’d suggest that for the faint-hearted to just stick to fantasy fiction, romance and young adult (YA) fiction.

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