The Way of a Boy – A Memoir of Java

War-time memoirs are numerous and popular. I have a friend who for a long period, read little else, focusing particularly on WW II and the stories of Jewish Holocaust survivors. I recently read The Way of a Boy, A Memoir of Java, by Ernest Hillen, a 1993 memoir which chronicles Hillen’s experiences as a seven-year-old boy, when he and his family were interned by the Japanese, on their island home of Java. Hillen’s father was Dutch, his mother a Canadian. Hillen has one brother too and writes tenderly about him. The family are separated early on: Hillen and his mother are kept together, the father and older son are sent away to an all-male internment camp.

The story covers the war years of 1942-1945. I couldn’t believe how ecstatic I felt when I realized, nearing the end of the book, that not only would the whole family survive, they went onto immigrate to Canada, where Ernest eventually ends up as an editor at Saturday Night magazine. Talk about happy ending!

The writing in this book is lovely. I am convinced I am listening to a young boy relate a story. The reader is 100 per cent in the here and now, not the long-ago.

It is Hillen’s memories of his mother that touched me the most. What an extraordinary woman! Her courage and sanity resonate from the pages. You can’t help but think, Could I do as well? And answer, Not likely.

I highly recommend the book. It is fascinating and as Mordecai Richler said on the front of the dust jacket, “I was absolutely hooked by page three.”

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