#BookReview: Shadows Over Paradise by Isabel Wolff

Reviewer: Mary

shadows over paradiseI received a review copy


For readers of Kate Morton and Jamie Ford comes a captivating novel of two very different women, struggling to come to terms with the ghosts from their past—by the internationally bestselling author of A Vintage Affair and The Very Picture of You
Sometimes the only way forward is through the past.
Jenni Clark is a ghostwriter. She loves to immerse herself in other people’s stories—a respite from her own life, and from a relationship that appears to be nearing its end. Jenni’s latest assignment takes her to a coastal hamlet in England, where she’s agreed to pen the memoir of an elderly farm owner named Klara. Jenni assumes the project will be easy: a quiet, ordinary tale of a life well lived.

But Klara’s story is far from quiet. She recounts the tale of a family torn apart by World War II, and of disgraceful acts committed against a community in the Japanese prison camps on the Pacific island paradise of Java. As harrowing details emerge and stunning truths come to light, Jenni is compelled to confront a secret she’s spent a lifetime burying.

Weaving together the lives of two very different women, Isabel Wolff has created a captivating novel of love, loss, and hope that reaches across generations.


Shadows Over Paradise mixes past with present, detailing the interviews of a ghostwriter and a survivor of a WWII prison camp. Jenni, an accomplished writer with a troubled childhood, faces a hurdle in her relationship with her long-term boyfriend. To take some space, Jenni accepts the job of writing a memoir for Karla, whose childhood was stripped away as she found herself, along with her mother and younger brother, in a prison camp run by Japanese militia. As Karla recounts the mental and physical torture she endured, she unveils the perspective of the thousands of women and children separated from their husbands and fathers and placed into disease-infested, inhumane living conditions.

Upon hearing Karla’s story, Jenni discovers that they share many of the same demons – fostering an unlikely bond between the two women. As their friendship progresses, you can’t help but wonder, will Karla be able to help Jenni let go of her troubled past and face the ghosts that haunt her? And, how will Karla’s years of starvation, labor and devastation lead her to a life where she is finally free? Each woman, though in very different situations, faces decisions that will affect her for the rest of her life.

Although difficult to read at times, Shadows Over Paradise explores a key historical period of Japanese prisoner-of-war-camps. With the development of the characters, you can’t help but root for Karla and her family, longing to read of how their story will unfold. In present time, the reader is captivated by Jenni’s burdens, and watches her character evolve and transform chapter by chapter as Karla’s tragedies provide a therapeutic relief Jenni never knew she needed.

 4 stars


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