In Jones’ debut historical novel based on actual events, a romance between a young mother and a pilot blossoms after a ship is stranded in South West Africa during World War II.
In 1942, Alison Habib travels to Cairo on the Dunedin Star, a cargo liner that also carries 12 passengers. She’s only 22 years old and is accompanied by her 18-month-old daughter and Egyptian husband. The ship strikes a sandbar unexpectedly and must be abandoned, so the passengers and crew brave tempestuous Atlantic waters until they reach the shore of South West Africa (now Namibia), called the Skeleton Coast. After multiple rescue missions fail, the survivors are forced to attempt a 700-mile overland trek to a military outpost. During one of the unsuccessful rescues, a pilot, Lt. Russell Townshend, lands on the beach in a B-25 bomber but is unable to take off again, stranding him with the others. Alison immediately feels drawn to the newcomer, and the two pass the time in rapt conversation. She keeps a diary of the experience, which she ultimately gives to one of her best friends—author Jones’ wife. In an extraordinary coincidence, Jones later orders a book about the shipwreck in 2003 from a bookstore owned by an elderly, infirm Townshend; he soon decides to give Townshend the diary as well as a letter that Alison wrote but never sent. Jones ambitiously braids several different narratives together into one coherent tapestry: Alison’s ordeal on the Dunedin Star; his wife Joanne’s friendship with her; his own history with his wife; and the attempt to communicate with Townshend in the twilight of his life. As a result, the story is a bit cramped, especially due to the fact that it’s so brief, but Jones is careful to avoid causing readers any chronological confusion. It helps that the tale is a powerfully dramatic one about survival in the face of unexpected danger and about a love that spanned decades. Lurking subtly but poignantly in the background is the author’s own love story, which seemingly inspires Alison to share a lifelong secret.
A moving novel about an unwavering affection that begins in a time of adversity.