Malaya, 1920: Two girls make a promise in the shadows of the jungle. A promise that life won’t let them easily keep.
Malaya, 1941: Ella is running her late father’s tin mine in the Kledang hills, while Noor works as her cook.
When the war that felt so far away suddenly arrives on their doorstep, Ella is torn apart from her family. Her daughter Grace is left in Noor’s care as Japanese soldiers seize the mine.
Ella is forced to make an impossible choice that takes her to England, thousands of miles from home. She is desperate to be reunited with her loved ones. But will the life she returns to be anything like the life she left behind?
Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the Random Things blog tour organizer, the opinions below are my own.
I don’t often choose to read World War Two fiction, but something drew me to The Forgotten Promise. Perhaps it’s because the primary setting isn’t Europe. Instead, the focus is on what would become Malaysia after it received independence from the United Kingdom. For now, however, it is still the colony of Malaya, where the white colonizers live a life of privilege. The opening chapter sets the scene for us; a time of innocence when Ella is ten and doesn’t understand why her life is so different from that of her friend’s.
The second chapter, however, takes readers to 1941 and we know what’s going to happen even if the characters don’t. Ella is married, with two children, and still living in naïve luxury. The war in Europe is too far away for it to matter, but tin is a much-needed metal so the family mine is doing well. The English colonists dismiss the notion of a Japanese invasion, even after the events at Pearl Harbor. Their servants, mostly natives, know better but are ignored. When the invasion does come, Ella relies on her husband to make decisions about her future. As a result, they are caught out and Ella is now on her own.
World War Two was a time of change for women. With so many men gone to fight, women had to step up both at home and in the workplace. In The Forgotten Promise, Greenlees shows readers what a difficult time it was for them and how they were treated. Thrown into the total opposite of paradise, Ella must provide for her son while worrying about the fate of her daughter and her husband. Trips to London for information means dodging air raids.
This is a heartbreaking novel. We don’t only get Ella’s perspective but Noor’s also. And I didn’t know whose portion of the story was worse. There’s a stunning revelation for Noor, which really highlights the differences in how she and Ella were treated when they were children. And, as Ella learned the fate of those she left behind, my tears began to flow. I read the final pages through blurry eyes. On a lighter note, elements of this book reminded me of Neville Shute’s A Town Like Alice, and Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher, both of which are excellent reads.
Publisher: Cornerstone (a division of Penguin Random House UK)
Publication Date: 29 December 2022
Paula Greenlees has a degree in English and European Thought and Literature, and a MA in Creative Writing. A section of her work has been included in Matter, a Sheffield Hallam magazine, which showcases the best work of writers from the MA course.
Before starting the MA, Paula ran her own business for 15 years, after a period as a teacher. Paula now lives in Warwickshire, having lived in South East Asia, Chicago and San Francisco. She is currently writing her third novel.
Paula Greenlee’s website: https://www.paulagreenlees.com/