What’s it all about?:
Stranger In My Heart (with foreword by HRH The Princess Royal) is about the search for understanding oneself, answering the question “Who am I?” by seeking to understand the currents that sweep down the generations, eddy through one’s own persona and continue on – palpable but often unrecognised. My father fought at the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941, was taken prisoner by the Japanese and then escaped in February 1942, making his way across 1200 miles of inhospitable country to reach China’s wartime capital at Chongqing. Seventy years later I retraced his steps in an effort to understand a man who had died when I was 18, leaving a lot of unanswered questions behind. My book is the quest that I undertook to explore my father’s life, in the context of the Pacific War and our relationship with China.
A picture of a man of the greatest generation slowly unfolds, a leader, a 20th Century Great, but a distant father. As I delve into his story and research the unfamiliar territory of China in the Second World War, the mission to get to know the stranger I called ‘Dad’ resolves into a mission to understand how my own character was formed. As I travel across China, the traits I received from my father gradually emerge from their camouflage. The strands of the story are woven together in a flowing triple helix, with biography, travelogue and memoir punctuated with musings on context and meaning.
What did I think?:
When Anne Cater first got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in reading this book, I read the synopsis (as you do!) and immediately jumped at the chance. Thank you so much to her and to Unbound Books for allowing me to read an advanced review copy of this intriguing memoir in return for an honest review. If you’re new to my blog, you might not realise I’m not only a big fan of periods in our history like World War I and II, but I’m also a very curious soul regarding the culture and history of China. So imagine my delight when I saw that two of my favourite things were beautifully entwined in a biography of such a fascinating and brave man, told by one of the closest members of his family, his daughter.
Poster from artist Martha Sawyers ca. 1944 depicting a Chinese soldier with his wounded wife and daughter.
The subject of this memoir, Lieutenant Colonel John Monro was a considerably quiet, private and stoic man and the author of this book, his daughter Mary, knew surprisingly little about his struggles and the danger he faced as a soldier during the Second World War. It is only after he passes away that Mary makes a real effort to dig into his past, reading his diary entries from Hong Kong, marvelling at his escape from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and admiring his bravery as he faced a long trek through China, just to get to a place of safety. Moved by her father’s experiences, Mary takes it upon herself to attempt to carry out the exact same trip as her father, despite many place names in China having changed in the last seventy years. As she walks in her father’s footsteps, Mary feels that she connects with her father in a deeper manner and has such memorable encounters with people and places that can only be described as life-changing.
The Situation In China, 1944 – sourced from The US Army Center Of Military History.
Stranger In My Heart feels like the reader is given access to a detailed account of the struggles of a very unassuming soldier by means of his diary entries. It was an honour to be a voyeur into John Monro’s life and the incredible journey he made through China, all the while in danger of losing his life. The memoir was all the more touching and authentic for the inclusion of the diaries and for Mary’s own individual trip, many years later. I particularly enjoyed her quiet humour of the author as she described a sign posted at a hotel she stayed at briefly:
“Lecherous acts, prostitution, drugs taking and trafficking, smuggling, gambling, wrestling or any other outlawed activities are strictly forbidden.”
Like Mary, I had to have a little chortle to myself. Wrestling?? This book has everything you would want from a memoir and packs so much in addition to this. As I mentioned, the diary entries are incredibly thorough and so intriguing to read – straight from “the horse’s mouth,” so as to speak. Moreover, we also get a brief history of China (which I particularly loved as a Chinese history enthusiast!) and finally, snatches from the author’s own trip to try and recreate her father’s journey which read remarkably like a great travel book. I had great fun reading it and really appreciate the efforts Mary Munro made in researching her father’s life and recounting it for the interested outsider. By the time I got to the end, I couldn’t help but think that it’s almost as if this journey/book has given Mary peace with both her father’s life and his death and it was a pleasure to be taken along for the ride.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
Mary has written numerous technical and academic articles and is an experienced lecturer and presenter, but this is her first book. She lives in Bath with her husband, Julian Caldecott, and dog, Gobi. She practises as an osteopath in the picturesque Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon. She treats people three days a week (see http://www.mmost.co.uk) and treats horses and dogs one day a week (www.hippokampos.co.uk and http://www.facebook.com/the2marys). She is a Trustee of the Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy (SCCO) and Member of the Royal Society of Medicine. She was formerly a marketing consultant, with five years experience at what is now Price Waterhouse Coopers, and three years with strategy consultancy, P.Four (now part of WPP). She began her marketing career with Cadbury’s confectionery and retains a lifelong love of chocolate.
Mary was born and raised at a farm on the edge of the south Shropshire hills, the youngest of four children. She attended Shrewsbury High School from age four to eighteen. She spent much of her childhood on horseback, which left her with permanent damage to her right eye, a broken nose, broken knee-cap and broken coccyx. She has been bitten, kicked, rolled on, dragged, and has fallen off too many times to recall, but she still rides racehorses for fun.
Find Mary on her website at: http://www.strangerinmyheart.co.uk
or on Twitter at: @monro_m276
Thank you once again to Anne Cater and Unbound Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Stranger In My Heart is due to be published in June 2018 and will be available as an e-book. If you fancy some more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!
Link to book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40046559-stranger-in-my-heart?ac=1&from_search=true