THE IRON GATES OF SANTO TOMAS by Emily Van Sickle

THE IRON GATES OF SANTO TOMAS

Interned by the Japanese: Manila 1942-1945
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Involving memoir of a woman caught with her husband behind enemy lines after the fall of Manila in WW II. Perhaps the least celebrated of prisoners-of-war, civilian internees nonetheless have their own extraordinary tales to tell of courage and despair. Here, Van Sickle describes how she and her husband survived three terrible years under Japanese occupation. When the enemy marched into Manila, only four weeks after Pearl Harbor, the totally unprepared Allied population, mostly American, was forcibly moved to the grounds of Santo Tomas University, the only space in the city large enough to contain them. ``How utterly helpless one becomes with the loss of freedom,'' says Van Sickle. Conditions ranged from mediocre to horrendous. Up to 70 people shared each room with bedbugs, scorpions, and centipedes; four toilets served 600 women. Yet soon stores opened in the camp, selling everything from children's toys to cigarettes. The civilian Japanese overseers kept a loose rein on things; hope remained. Then Van Sickle's husband grew dreadfully sick, from asthma and beriberi. Typhoons struck, escapees were brutally beaten and then executed; the Japanese military took over the camp and instituted a clampdown. Van Sickle recounts the petty grievances--largely arising from lack of space--that brought decent people to blows, and the small kindnesses that saved lives and souls. Her tale becomes that of the archetypal prisoner: a lament for freedom lost and a jeremiad against the captor. When liberation comes in 1945, Van Sickle expresses no regret as the Japanese captain of the guards is hacked apart by camp survivors. At the same time, she's appalled by the ill-treatment afforded American GIs of Japanese descent, who were sometimes spat upon by fellow soldiers. Her plea is for ``the just rights of others, whoever they are,'' and her experience gives it weight. A valuable addition to the history of WW II.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-89733-379-9
Page count: 350pp
Publisher: Academy Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1992