A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute


Jean Paget is a young woman living in England after WWII who is left a great deal of money by a distant relative. She wants to use the money to build a well in a village in Malaysia that was so important to her during the war. She tells her solicitor, who is the trustee, why she wants to do this, and this forms the first part of the book as her life as a prisoner of war. 

She was working in Malaya at the time the Japanese invaded and was taken prisoner together with a group of women and children. The Japanese marched them from one village to another rather than take responsibility for them. None of the villages would take them. During this time Jean met an Australian soldier, Sergeant Joe Harman, also a prisoner.

Harman steals five chickens from the local Japanese commander to help the women. The thefts are investigated and he takes the blame full blame to save Jean and the rest of the group. He is beaten, crucified, and left to die by the Japanese soldiers. The women are marched away, believing that he is dead. This happened in the very village where Jean, after the war, wanted to go back to to give them a well. 

After her return to the Malaysian village she discovers that Harman had survived his ordeal and returned to Australia. Her trip to Australia takes her to a town she knew Joe had lived before the war called Alice Springs. They eventually find each other and the book ends with their effort to build a special town and place to live.

This book was first reviewed in 2009 by this reviewer. It was first read in 2005. It is a short book and easy to reread and gives a little different message each time. issue of racism. The books characters are English, Australian, Malaysian, Japanese, and Aboriginal. Racism is clearly an issue but not the books message. 

Nevil Shute upper left.  Jean searched for  Harmon when she went to Australia and went to the town of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. She was impressed with the town. Picture shows the town and the spring it was named for.  

Quotes by Nevil Shute

“People who spent the war in prison camps have written a lot of books about what a bad time they had, she said quietly, staring into the embers. they don't know what it was like, not being in a camp.” 

“Men' s souls are naturally inclined to covetousness; but if ye be kind towards women and fear to wrong them, God is well acquainted with what ye do.”