Bamboo Heart – Ann Bennett

Published March 28, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Shortlisted for Best Fiction Title, Singapore Book Awards 2016

Thailand, 1943: Thomas Ellis, captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore, is a prisoner-of-war on the Death Railway. In stifling heat he endures endless days of clearing jungle, breaking stone and lugging wood. He must stay alive, although he is struck down by disease and tortured by Japanese guards, and he must stay strong, although he is starving and exhausted. For Tom has made himself a promise: to return home. Not to the grey streets of London, where he once lived, but to Penang, where he found paradise and love. London, 1986: Laura Ellis, a successful City lawyer, turns her back on her yuppie existence and travels to Southeast Asia. In Thailand and Malaysia she retraces her father’s past and discovers the truths he has refused to tell her. And in the place where her father once suffered and survived, she will finally find out how he got his Bamboo Heart. In a blend of stirring fiction and heart-wrenching history, Ann Bennett narrates the story of a soldier’s strength and survival in the bleakest of times and a daughter’s journey of discovery about her father and herself. Bamboo Heart is volume one in a Southeast Asian WWII trilogy that includes Bamboo Island and Bamboo Road.

What did I think?:

Hello everyone and welcome to a very special three days on my blog. For the next three days, including today, I will be talking about a wonderful new trilogy that I’ve just completed – The Bamboo Trilogy by Ann Bennett. I shall be reviewing the first book today, Bamboo Heart then the second, Bamboo Island tomorrow and finally the third, Bamboo Road as part of a blog tour celebrating the final book in the series and the trilogy as a whole. The books can be read in any order as they are all stand-alone stories although they do make references to things that have already happened in the previous books (in the case of the second and third novels).

Faye Rogers, who works as a freelance PR contacted me and asked me to be a part of this blog tour and when I read the synopsis of the books, I immediately accepted. A huge thank you to her and also to Monsoon Books for sending me a copy of the trilogy in exchange for an honest review. I’m a great lover of historical fiction and one of the periods of interest for me is the Second World War. As it is also set mainly in Southeast Asia, a region I find fascinating, that was the icing on the cake for me. What I wasn’t expecting is how emotionally invested I became in the stories. Bamboo Heart is the story of Laura Ellis in London, 1986 whom after the tragic death of her father, becomes desperate to find out more about his life during the Second World War. What happened to her father in the forties in Thailand and Malaysia is difficult for her father to talk about, the horrific experiences that he went through are nothing short of devastating and he deliberately shielded his daughter from the heart-break of his story.

After undergoing a break up of her own and still grieving for the loss of her father, Laura decides to journey to Thailand and Malaysia so that she can understand some of what her father went through. The story takes us through Laura’s hunt for that terrible knowledge and back in time to the 1940’s when her father, Tom Ellis is a prisoner of war of the Japanese, helping to build a railway from Thailand to Burma. The conditions he works in are brutal and almost indescribable but the author does not shy away from the honesty of how the prisoners were treated. They were beaten on a daily basis, starved, punished for the slightest infraction and before long, were mere skeletons, too weak to undergo the hard labour that was expected of them but terrified of repercussions if they didn’t. Laura goes through an emotional journey of her own as she realises what her father suffered and we learn more about Tom’s life both during this horrific time and when he first came to the East and fell in love with a local woman.

I found this novel to be a fascinating read, especially I have to say Tom’s story and his experiences whilst building the railway as a prisoner of war. I was slightly less invested in Laura’s story but I enjoyed how the author linked the two together. I must also mention that the author began writing this story whilst carrying out research into her own father’s involvement in the very same railway so I believe this makes the story all the more poignant, being based on real life anecdotes/experiences. It made me think a lot, mainly about the brutality of war but there was also a somewhat hopeful message within – how the soldiers banded together building strong friendships and being incredibly brave in the face of such torture was amazing to read about. I’m looking forward to reading another story based around the same time period but involving different characters in the next novel, Bamboo Island which I’m certain will be just as gut-wrenching but informative as this one.

If you like the sound of Bamboo Heart you can buy it here:

Amazon Link:

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


Come back tomorrow where I’ll be reviewing the second book in the trilogy, Bamboo Island.


5 comments on “Bamboo Heart – Ann Bennett

  • I just hosted a post from Ann today on my blog about the research behind the books and it’s really made me want to read the books! Your review sounds fab! Thanks for linking up to the British Books Challenge x

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