A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

You’ve probably never heard of this book, but in Australia it’s a classic, and everyone reads it in school. It has something for just about everyone. Part of the book is a war story, part is an adventure story in the Australian outback, and there’s also a love story. But mostly, A Town Like Alice is a story of the quiet heroism of ordinary people.

Jean Paget is a young Englishwoman living in Malaya when the Japanese invade the country during World War II. Along with other women and their children, Jean is taken prisoner. Because there is no prison camp to put them in, and because no Japanese commander wants to be responsible for feeding them, they are forced to walk hundreds of miles over the next several months, passed from place to place. As the only one who speaks the native language of Malaya, Jean takes a leadership role in helping the women obtain food from whatever village they are staying in for the night. Still, over half the women and children die of exhaustion or disease. Along the way, they meet an Australian prisoner named Joe Harman, and he and Jean feel an instant attraction to each other that is not acted upon because Joe mistakenly believes that Jean is married. Still, Joe helps the women by stealing chickens from the Japanese commander currently in charge of them. He is caught, and the women must watch as he is crucified and beaten to death by the Japanese.

Finally, the war ends and Jean returns to England where she takes a secretarial job. She lives a quiet life, emotionally cut off from the people around her. Then she learns that she has inherited rather a lot of money from an uncle she hadn’t seen since she was a child. She must now decide how to spend the money and her life. What she decides to do will surprise you and touch you. It’s a beautiful story.

This story, narrated by Jean’s lawyer, is told in a quiet and straightforward way. There are no superheroes, superspies, or superpowers. Just everyday people helping each other to do what has to be done.

I hope you will read this book. If you do, please refrain from reading the summary on the back of the paperback. In my opinion, the summary gives away a plot point that should be a pleasant surprise for the reader.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

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