FIRES OF SURVIVAL by Doreen Gandy Wiley


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 A young woman comes of age in Japanese-occupied Manila in this generic war novel from poet Wiley. Sixteen-year-old Elena Neville is living with her Spanish mother, Swiss stepfather, and two younger brothers when the Japanese invade the Philippines in late 1941. Until that moment she had been a typical schoolgirl, bemoaning her large breasts and eagerly awaiting the day when her parents would allow her to wear makeup. After the invasion, however, Elena must deal with weightier issues. For one thing, she feels a traitor to her American and English friends who are interned as enemies of the occupiers while she accepts the protection of her stepfather's Swiss citizenship (her father is an Englishman with American citizenship) to remain free. She faces food shortages, bombings, and the cruelty of the Japanese: One citizen who steals a carton of cigarettes from a storehouse is murdered and left to rot on the street outside her house. In this incongruous atmosphere Elena also experiences the first stirrings of passion and falls in love with an American soldier named Jerry. She even becomes involved with the underground in order to exchange letters with Jerry when he is a POW, although she has only spoken with him twice and seen him once from a distance. After years of occupation and days of near starvation in the family's dugout bomb shelter, Elena is rescued by the American soldiers who take Manila. When the war is over, she and her family immigrate to America. Third-person narration focusing on Elena's experiences is interspersed with her diary entries, which add nothing to the account but give it a distinct YA flavor. As though eschewing her poetic past, Wiley doesn't trust the reader to detect irony, paradox, or symbolism, but notes each instance in the text itself. Overwritten and overanalyzed. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1995
ISBN: 0-89407-114-9
Page count: 220pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994