Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > My Beautiful Enemy

My Beautiful Enemy by Cory Taylor
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bookshelves: australian-womens-writers-challenge, librarybooks

‘Everybody has dreams about the life they might have led.’

This novel is about the relationship between a young Australian soldier, Arthur Wheeler, and a young Japanese prisoner of war, Stanley Ueno, from their youth to old age. Their love can never be acknowledged and for Arthur in particular as he recounts his story, it raises a life time of questions about what might have been in different circumstances and in different times.

Arthur is seventeen years old in 1945. He is a guard at Tatura, an internment camp for enemy aliens. World War II is finally drawing to a close: the allied bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still in the future, just a few months away. We meet Arthur in the infirmary, where he is recovering from a nervous disorder and still smarting from his dismissal from the Air Force at the end of 1944.

One night in the middle of May, he meets Stanley, a Japanese teenager from a family of circus performers. Arthur is immediately attracted to Stanley’s beauty and bearing.

‘In an instant I’d been converted to a new faith, which said beauty was a rare thing and something to be worshipped unreservedly.’

We see this relationship entirely through Arthur’s eyes. Stanley largely remains an enigma: one minute he embraces American traits, the next he discusses Japanese literature. He torments Arthur, but reveals little of his own feelings. But Arthur never stops longing for Stanley, even though they spent only a very brief time together. Arthur’s inability to let go of his desire to reunite with Stanley destroys any capacity he might have to embrace any other relationship. Arthur abandons his young wife May and their son Stuart in order to try to prevent Stanley being deported from Australia.

Reading this story as recounted by Arthur half a life time later, reminds me how much store we can place on memories and how it can be possible to be trapped in the past, longing for an ideal. How much more complicated this can become when love is caught up in struggles between nations, as well as struggles with sexuality and expectations.

I found this novel thought-provoking and very moving.

‘Sometimes love has nothing to do with it.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Reading Progress

June 14, 2014 – Started Reading
June 14, 2014 – Shelved
June 14, 2014 – Shelved as: australian-womens-writers-challenge
June 14, 2014 – Shelved as: librarybooks
June 15, 2014 – Finished Reading

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