Length: 353 pages
Setting: mostly England and Australia during the late 1940s, but also Malaysia during WWII
Interest: It was one of the BBC’s Big Read books and was available on my Kindle to read while we were on vacation.
Summary: The story is told from the point of view of an elderly solicitor. One of his clients dies and leaves his estate to a young niece, Jean Paget, and a trust. The solicitor tracts down Jean and becomes close to her. She tells her story in Malaysia during WWII. She was part of a group of English families captured by the Japanese. The women and children are forced to walk from place to place, never finding a prisoner camp to stay in. With her new money, Jean goes back to the village the women ultimately stayed in to build them a well and a thanks offering. There, she learns an Australian, Joe Harmon, who had helped the women as they were walking, survived a crucifixion she had witnessed. So, she goes to Australia to find him. They meet and Jean decides to start a series of businesses in the nearest town of Willstown. She and Joe get married and the town becomes a delightful place to live.
Final thoughts: I loved this book! Jean was a great character to follow. She could see a need in a community and then work to get that need fulfilled. However, she was portrayed as a very accessible character, so it was easy to put myself in her shoes throughout the story. After living like a native in Malaysia, I could easily see how she would be dissatisfied with life in post-war London. The Australian outback wasn’t the best either, but now she had the chance to do something and make a difference. There was a bit of romance in the story as Joe and Jean get together, but the book was written in the 50s so there’s no details. The walking about the jungle was amazing as well and based on a true story! I wonder if I could walk ten miles a day on not enough food and plagued by various tropical ailments and still survive.
Title comes from: The town of Alice Springs was a real gonzo town, according to Joe. Jean wanted to make Willstown just like Alice Springs.
Reading challenges fulfilled: #41 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge
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