With the Japanese army poised to invade their Indonesian island in 1942, Rita la Fontaine's family knew that they would soon become prisoners of war. One of their greatest fears was that 12-year-old Rita - their only daughter - would be forced to act as a "comfort woman" for the Japanese soldiers, so they launched a daring and desperate plan to turn Rita into "Rick." Rita's long dark hair was cut short, and she was dressed in boys' clothes. For the next three years, she carried out a dangerous charade.
This isn't a made-up story. It's true, and this book is written by Rita la Fontaine herself. It reads as both a biography and a novel, and the fact that every word of it is true makes it an even more engaging story than if it were a mere wartime novel. From the moment I started reading Disguised: A Wartime Memoir, I was enthralled and deeply interested in what happened to Rita. I was curious to see how she continued to maintain her disguise as she grew from a 12-year-old girl to a 14-year-old. It's really amazing how she pulled it off!
What most impressed me with Rita la Fontaine's writing was how she dealt with delicate scenes. There are plenty of them, but Rita never finds it necessary to go into detail. She gives a clear picture of what is going on in as few words as possible, while also giving insight into how a 12-year-old girl perceives such situations. There is one part in particular, when Rita is attacked by a Japanese soldier, that the author handles particularly well in its telling. Again, the fewest words are used to explain what is going on, but the Reader gets a clear - but not overly explicit - picture of the situation.
The book also gives an interesting insight into the Japanese who occupied the Indonesian islands. Through the years of occupation, Rita encounters soldiers who are brutal, but she also encounters just as many - if not more - who do as much as they can for the prisoners of war and even go against their orders to burn the camps and prisoners within when Japan surrenders. It just goes to illustrate once more that people are people; you'll encounter the bad and the good in any place, and even during the time of war, Rita was able to consider many Japanese as her friends.
Disguised: A Wartime Memoir by Rita la Fontaine de Clercq Zubli is going on my Books to Buy list.
Star Review: 5/5 (this book was amazing)