The Bird In The Bamboo Cage by Hazel Gaynor

Sunflower Seeds

The Bird In The Bamboo Cage by Hazel Gaynor is an incredibly powerful historical novel that will educate you as you read. It is based on true life events, making the book even more powerful.

Much is known about the war in Europe during World War II but far less is known about the war in the Pacific – this book helps to rectify this.

The story opens in China during 1941 at the Chefoo Missionary School. Many will realise the significance of the year as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, making war in the Far East a certainty. As the Japanese walked into China, they occupied the missionary school. The whole school moved twice to different internment camps, each one worse than the last. The Japanese guards were incredibly cruel but there were those who maintained their humanity, showing little pockets of kindness.

The tale is told through two alternating points of view – a teacher and a pupil. Their experiences are similar but different as the teacher tries to cushion her pupils from the horrors. Even within the camps, school learning and routines continued, in order to help maintain some familiarity.

In the filth and the cruelty bonds were formed, linking survivors together forever. If you weren’t there, you could never understand what happened.

The people were imprisoned by walls but their minds were free. “Freedom wasn’t something I had to wait for, but was something I could choose. In my mind … I could be as free as the birds.” Freedom of minds helped to keep hope alive. A Buddhist saying was also on their minds and helped. “The price of freedom is simply choosing to be; liberation is in the mind.”

Hope came in the form of sunflower seeds – a gift given as the teachers and children left their original Chefoo building. Whenever tragedy struck, a sunflower seed would be planted in remembrance.

God walked alongside His children but in the darkness He was not always visible. “I really wasn’t sure if God heard anything at all.” It is easy to question God’s existence but “The Lord is always listening, and those who have faith will never be alone.”

Prayers were important. They too were questioned. “Prayers won’t bring an end to the war, or to this … invasion. Prayers can’t bring back our loved ones.” Prayers link us to God. We need Him all the time, especially in the dark.

We learn the value of people. “It isn’t the bricks and mortar that make a home… It’s the people.” It is people pulling together, helping each other in the times of unimaginable evil.

Christian missionary and runner, Eric Liddell was in the same camp as the school in real life. We see how he was an encouragement to all.

The Bird In The Bamboo Cage was such a powerful read. I read it in just two sittings. The people and the horrific circumstances all came alive under Hazel Gaynor’s marvellous pen. We will never truly know the horrors that the people endured and survived because we were not there. However, Hazel Gaynor gives us a glimpse. Reality would have been far worse.

I will leave you with my favourite quote:

“Our war wasn’t one of battles and bombs. Ours was a war of everyday struggles; of hope versus despair, of courage against fear, strength over frailty… So we simply went on, rising and falling with each sunrise and sunset; forever lost, until we were found…” Wow!

I received a free copy. A favourable review was not required. All opinions are my own.


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