Burma, 1945. Bea, Plum, Bubbles, Joy and Lucy: in search of adventure, attached to the Fourteenth Army, fighting a forgotten war in the jungle. Assigned to run a mobile canteen, navigating treacherous roads and dodging hostile gunfire, they become embroiled in life-threatening battles of their own.
Oxford, 1976. A woman slips into a museum and steals several rare Japanese netsuke, including the famed fox-girl. Despite the offer of a considerable reward, these tiny, exquisitely detailed carvings are never seen again.
London and Galway, 1999. On the eve of the new millennium, Olivia, assistant to an art dealer, meets Beatrix, an elderly widow who wishes to sell her late husband’s collection of Japanese art. Olivia travels with Beatrix to a New Year’s Eve party, deep in the Irish countryside, where friendships will be tested as secrets kept for more than fifty years are spilled.
It’s hard to walk into a bookshop – or log onto bookish corners of the internet – and not notice Kayte Nunn’s books. I think they must have some of the most beautiful covers out there! So I had seen her latest historical fiction novel, The Last Reunion, around and had it on my broader tbr radar, but seeing it pop up for a readalong with Tandem Collective Global convinced me that I really wanted to pick it up. I’ve written previously about being part of a readalong with the Tandem team (here), and I have to say, the more readalongs I do the more I enjoy them. We had some fantastic discussions about The Last Reunion over the span of the readalong, both led by thoughtful prompts on the question cards Tandem put together, and also just in general with about what we thought was going to happen next, because this is one of those books where I just wanted to talk through my theories as the story – and its mysteries – unfolded.
Yes – I loved this book. It has all the things I love in my historical fiction, including fierce brave women with wonderful friendships who manage to find joy in their time together despite the challenges they are up against, well researched insights into aspects of women’s lives/roles in society at a time where their world is on the brink of a major shift, and chapters that alternate between different timelines that are beautifully threaded together and across which some mystery unfolds – all of these boxes had big ticks in The Last Reunion.
The women in the 1945 timeline were so wonderful. I loved seeing them together, how different they were but how they came together to support eachother, and the fun they have together despite their circumstances. I had not heard of the Women’s Auxiliary Service in Burma (Wasbie), and the work they did running Mobile Canteens so close to the frontline in Burma during WWII, before reading this one, and I thought it was so fascinating, and important to have their work written about and recognised. The 1999 timeline was woven really nicely together with the past, and I felt like the overall narrative worked really well. I liked that we got to meet Bea and her friends again as older women, and the way that we found out more about them and their experiences as Olivia learned more.
As if a brilliant book and some great bookish friends weren’t enough to make this readalong a wonderful experience, we also received packages of tea from Byron Bay Tea Company – perfect for a book which has tea at its heart.
I’d recommend this one to readers looking for a compelling historical fiction read about love and friendship in difficult circumstances. I’m super impressed with how ‘readable’ this one was, as even through some really heavy themes there was almost always a sense of joy and hope – although I will warn fellow book criers that I basically sobbed through the last 50 pages or so, which might mean its a read at home not in public book (I mean, my favourite cafes are all use to me crying over my books, but just so you know!)
The Last Reunion by Kayte Nunn
Out now from Hachette Australia.
Source: I received a free copy from Hachette, via Tandem Collective Global as part of the readalong.
Category: Historical Fiction.