18 Jan The Forgotten Promise by Paula Greenlees
A moving story of friendship and sacrifice in the face of the dangers of war
How far would you go for a friend when she seems to have forgotten you?
That’s the main theme of Paula Greenlees’ latest novel, set in Malaya in the years before and up to WWII.
The story opens in 1920, when we meet Ella McCain, privileged daughter of a wealthy tin mine owner and his Malayan wife.
Her best friend is Noor, daughter of the household’s cook, and together the two girls swear to be blood sisters.
But then Ella goes off to boarding school. With new friends, she no longer has time for Noor.
Twenty years later, Ella is married with two young children, and mistress of her late parents’ house, where Noor is now the cook.
Despite the looming threat of invasion by the Japanese, when Ella’s persuaded by her friend Melody to accompany her to the coast, she accepts, taking baby Toby with her, but leaving behind her husband Johnnie and daughter Grace, who has been ill with diphtheria.
When the Japanese invade, Ella and Toby can’t get back to Johnnie and Grace, and must fend for themselves in the panicked disorder of the occupied country.
Back at home, Noor has the opportunity to escape the approaching Japanese, but how can she abandon Grace?
Will Ella’s family ever be reunited? And will Noor’s sacrifice for her friend prove the final straw that breaks their bonds?
As Ella and Noor separately face the challenges of a relentless and bloody war, there are secrets to be uncovered and fresh promises to be made.
But can there be a happy ending for any of them?
This was such an intriguing story, right from the start. Ella and Noor are both strong, empathetic characters, especially Noor. It’s tempting at first to judge Ella for her carelessness towards her old friend, but in the context of the girls’ different upbringings and expectations, it is understandable, and Ella redeems herself through the course of the story, proving herself a devoted mother and good friend.
The writing is so descriptive – the story immerses you in the heat, scents and sounds of the Malayan countryside, villages and towns, and weaves the political state of the country under British, then Japanese rule seamlessly into the story.
The plight and feelings of the Malayans are never overlooked, nor their role in keeping resistance against the Japanese going until the bitter end of the war.
The ever-present threat of danger to Ella, Noor, their friends and family keep you turning the pages – knowing just what the Japanese soldiers were capable of in wartime is enough to send your heart to your mouth.
But the story thankfully never becomes too harrowing, instead taking the reader in unexpected directions more than once.
Friendship and family, love and romance, war and danger – they’re all here, and make for a super read.
The Forgotten Promise by Paula Greenlees is published by Penguin in ebook and paperback, and available here
About the Author
Paula has lived in various places, including Singapore, where she was based for three years. It was while living in Singapore that the first seeds of her debut novel, Journey to Paradise, developed. Her writing, although set against exotic backgrounds, is set on the cusp of change – the shift from colonial dominance to independence. She likes to dig into a variety of issues and her main protagonist is, in many ways, a metaphor for the political and social events surrounding her at that time.
Paula has always wanted to be a writer. As a little girl she used to spend hours writing stories and turning them into books. She spent hours writing poetry and plays as a teenager and has always written short stories in her spare time. It is this need to write and a love of reading that led her to take a degree in English and European Thought and Literature, and later a Masters Degree in Creative Writing.
Her wide range of interests include people watching in cafés, long walks, and travel. Good food is essential to her (you will find lots of food descriptions in her writing) and she loves to cook using the best ingredients she can find.
As well as a love of travel, she is a keen amateur photographer and her latest trip took her to Cambodia and she hopes to return to Southeast Asia in the near future. She is currently working on a new 3 book series.
Paula lives in Warwickshire with her husband and an extremely friendly Labrador.