In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie

I did something I don’t normally do with books. I folded down a corner of a page because I wanted to come back to something.


“Nurse Margaret had not heard what I was really saying, which is what kindness there is in the things our mothers do.”


Our main character Etta thought this at the age of eleven, back in 1941.


I had intended to come back to it for this blog to talk about how some of the language of the book doesn’t match the age of the character.


I can well believe that an old lady, someone born in 1930 would speak like that at the age of 80, but I find it hard to believe that such an eloquence of language exists in an eleven year old, no matter what year they were born.


However towards the end of the book, we learn that the story is being written by Etta as a slightly older character, one who has been through more than you imagine at the beginning of the book. Coming back to this sentence, once I’d finished the book, the choice of language makes more sense.


The language is not distracting at all, and this was my only real quibble with the book. It was a nicely written tale of a group of schoolgirls at a boarding school in China during World War 2.


The girls grow up like any normal girls, forming groups, shunning outcasts, measuring breasts. I imagine that last bit is normal, I wouldn’t know, and frankly, I don’t really want to know.


Their lives change dramatically when they end up in a Prisoner of War camp, but this occurs nearly two thirds of the way through the book, and from there we race through from age eleven up to the age of fifteen when Etta is on her way back to England, to a home she has never known before.


It’s enjoyable and inoffensive, but there wasn’t anything in this that particularly stood out to me. But I can imagine to some, people with similar backgrounds, young women, there is much about this book that will resonate.


The novel’s sense of place could be stronger. Although not an alien world to Etta having spent her entire life in China, we are presented with a small boarding school nestled in the mountains. There is a sense of isolation, and nearly no sense of being in a stranger’s land. There is little interaction with the native Chinese.


I’m struggling to form my feelings on the book – it’s a solid story, and I don’t regret reading it, but perhaps the reason I’m struggling to reconcile my feelings, is that it didn’t really invoke any.


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