Khaki Town, Judy Nunn's stunning new novel, is inspired by a wartime true story which the Government kept secret for over seventy years.
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia
Publication date: 1st October 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format read: Uncorrected proof paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via Better Reading
It's March 1942. Singapore has fallen. Darwin has been bombed. Australia is on the brink of being invaded by the Imperial Japanese Forces. And Val Callahan, publican of The Brown's Hotel in Townsville, could not be happier as she contemplates the fortune she's making from lonely, thirsty soldiers.
Overnight the small Queensland city is transformed into the transport hub for 70,000 American and Australian soldiers destined for combat in the South Pacific. Barbed wire and gun emplacements cover the beaches. Historic buildings have been commandeered. And the dance halls are in full swing with jitterbug and jive.
The Australian troops, short on rations and equipment, begrudge the confident, well-fed 'Yanks' who have taken over their town (and women). And there's growing conflict, too, within the American ranks. Because black GIs are enjoying the absence of segregation and the white GIs do not like it.
Then one night a massive street fight leaves a black soldier lying dead in the street, and the situation explodes into violent confrontation.
Judy Nunn knows how to write a great Aussie story filled with quintessential Australian characters.
Khaki Town, set in wartime Townsville, is a character driven story centred on the rumoured uprising of African American soldiers during their time in Australia helping to build airfields.
Nunn paints a vivid picture of the 1940’s. Val Callahan, one time prostitute, now owner of the local pub is beautiful, tough and astute. She watches over her two young barmaids, Betty and Jill, as if they were her own daughters. Baz Taylor the racketeer never misses an opportunity to line his pockets but he is always sure to stay on Val’s good side. Aunty Edie, an aboriginal elder, has had a tough life but she is proud and hard working. The young girls look up to her. The story follows all these characters as the soldiers invade their town.
The characters are sincere and believable and the main theme of racism rings true to the era and Nunn doesn’t soften the hate and racist talk. The story builds slowly on why the soldiers mutinied. Highlighting the effect the influx of American soldiers had on the residents of Townsville and on the Australian soldiers.
The attitude some people had to the African American soldiers is shocking but the treatment they received from their own white officers is horrifying.
Nunn has written a fictional account of the time but the main points ring true to documents that have been uncovered. This is a story that has been covered up by both the Australian and American governments far too long.
*The book contains offensive language that the author included to remain true to the era.
My rating 4/5
This review is part of the Book Lover Book Review Aussie author challenge
book #30 in the Australian Women Writers challenge
Letter 'K' in the 2019 A-Z challenge
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