The White Pearl
by Kate Furnivall
Page Count: 448
Release Date: March 6, 2012
Format: Trade Paperback
How got: local public library
First attention getter: setting and synopsis
National bestselling author of The Russian Concubine, Kate Furnivall spins a tale of war, desperation, and the discovery of love off the coast of Malaya.
Malaya, 1941. Connie Thornton plays her role as a dutiful wife and mother without complaint. She is among the fortunate after all-the British rubber plantation owners reaping the benefits of the colonial life. But Connie feels as though she is oppressed, crippled by boredom, sweltering heat, a loveless marriage. . .
Then, in December, the Japanese invade. Connie and her family flee, sailing south on their yacht toward Singapore, where the British are certain to stand firm against the Japanese. En route, in the company of friends, they learn that Singapore is already under siege. Tensions mount, tempers flare, and the yacht's inhabitants are driven by fear.
Increasingly desperate and short of food, they are taken over by a pirate craft and its Malayan crew making their perilous way from island to island. When a fighter plane crashes into the sea, they rescue its Japanese pilot. For Connie, that's when everything changes. In the suffocating confines of the boat with her life upended, Connie discovers a new kind of freedom and a new, dangerous, exhilarating love.
Star Rating - 4
If this book is anything to judge by setting and world building wise, then Ms Furnivall is a master at this element. I could feel the sweat dripping down my spine and feel the heavy weight of humidity as I read. The author has a real gift for bringing the vibrant and dangerous world of WWII Malaysia and the nearby tropical islands to life. This author is comparable to some of my other favorites in this regard.
The story itself was intense and suspenseful as it needed to be. The author managed her flow fairly well, with slow characterization scenes and dramatic action exchanges interwoven perfectly. Even the slower sections in British-held Malaysia plantations were interspersed with powerful flashbacks foreshadowing the coming invasion and events leading up to how everyone came to be on the White Pearl.
The story of the Japanese invasion of British-held territories is one I haven’t seen done often in WWII fiction. The author’s dedication to her research shows through. The siege of Singapore, the bombing of British Malaysia, and the island hopping fighting was unexplored territory for me. The British attitude towards the Japanese army, their underestimation of its prowess and speed, was an intriguing outlook to explore; goes to show that underestimating your enemy is the best way to get conquered.
One of the places this book faltered was in its characters and how they were written. Many of the main people that play a lead role in events and their outcome aren’t given the amount of characterization that they desperately needed. I was left questioning motivations for more than one individual.
The characters that did get fleshed out were three-dimensional, I’ll give the author that, but most of them are to the degree that they’re almost unlikable. Prime example of this is Maya. The reader gets a close look into her head and really gets to know her, but for her, that’s not a good thing. I almost wish she had been killed so I could read less of her.
The main character of Connie I did end up liking, enough that I was invested on whether she survived or not, got her man, or whether she was able to stay united with her son. I liked how dedicated she was to her loved ones, how her eyes eventually opened to the reality of the British Empire’s future in Malaysia, and how courageous she turned out to be facing all the challenges that came her way.
If this is what I can expect from Furnivall in future, I think I’ll be hunting other titles by her. She sets a great scene and tells a spellbinding story with outstanding research to support it. Her characters could use some work, making them more likable overall. But I enjoyed the main lead, so I was kept invested throughout the book. For the unique look at the world during WWII along, I’d recommend this book. But it’s got other great qualities, too.