The true story of one woman's struggle to survive years of incarceration in Japanese prisoner of war camps on the Philippine Islands during World War II. I have always loved true stories, stories of quiet courage and fortitude, stories of the common man or woman who survived against all the odds. These have always been my heroes so imagine how much it means to me to be able to tell my mother's story.
A synopsis for you.
It is December 8th 1941.
Fresh from England, Ronny Rynd, six months pregnant, has sought refuge in the mountain setting of Baguio far from the suffocating heat of Manila. Following the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor she finds herself caught up in the Japanese attack on the Philippine Islands. Alone and vulnerable she must learn ways to survive. Years of incarceration loom as she struggles to bring up her baby in primitive and hostile conditions. Desperate to be a family, the ever feisty and courageous Ronny fights for the opportunity to be united with her husband, Pat, who is imprisoned in distant Manila. But conditions there present further horrors and heartbreak as starvation, disease and the death toll rise for internees waiting for the longed for American liberation. This is the true account of one woman's experience of war. My mother's experience. Her recollections left in hand written notes, are the foundation of this account revealing how she had always wanted her story to be told. Written as a tribute to the men and women who remarkably created their own functioning society
within their camps with humour, inventiveness and determination. Hers is a story of a family life lived in spite of the brutal regime of years behind barbed wire.
Why I have spent the last four years writing this story?
As a child I was brought up with my parent's story and as children do, accepted their
accounts as normal. It is my mother's perspective of history that I am telling as Ronny always intended to write her story herself. I recall many evenings when she sat at her Chinese writing desk, positioned so that she could keep one eye on the television as she scribbled away. Always able to multi task, her energy levels were impressive. She wrote copious notes and told my sister Catherine and me tales of the humour and inventiveness of her fellow prisoners, always soft peddling the despair. I was only to learn the full degree of the horror from the accounts of other
Ronny never wrote her book. After she died Catherine, who luckily for me was a hoarder, gathered the notes and stored them to be forgotten in her attic. It was only after my sister's untimely death ten years later that I stumbled on these gems, as fresh as if my mother had just walked out of the room. In the moment when I decided to take up my mother's task, I had no idea as to the enormity of the journey in front of me. I had never written a book before so took myself off to an evening class for creative writing. I started to read every book I could lay my hands on to cover that forgotten war arena. The Philippines has not been covered as well as the more famous
horrors of Japanese occupation. Researching endlessly I hit lucky when I discovered a network of ex-internees spread across the world, still connected with each other on the internet clarifying memories and sharing information.
They have been extraordinarily generous with their time and interest and to my amazement some actually recalled Ronny, Pat and Catherine. I knew that I owed it to these survivors to be totally accurate historically as I checked and counter checked my mother's recollections. I wrote and rewrote Ronny's story and the deeper I immersed myself the more committed I became to telling the story of how these remarkable prisoners adapted and created a society to lessen their individual pain and distress.
There is anger, pain and humour in this story as Ronny became part of this mini world with its own structure with one solitary aim, to survive when it became evident that rescue was a distant fantasy.
A harrowing tale of human survival against all the odds told with great humanity and clarity of detail.
The picture of the conditions in the camp has been perfectly painted with an artist's eye. The characters are not portrayed as perfect and display all the features of classic family dysfunction. but the narration is both real and intimate and you feel that access has been given to Ronny's deepest and most complex thoughts.
A great read that motors along and leaves you in awe of Ronny and Pat's steel but optimistic for their future.
by Stephen Lee
The Bamboo Bracelet is not just a labour of love; it is a remarkable, honest and moving story of Merilyn’s mother’s experiences of giving birth and raising a child in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Philippines in the second world war. She managed to be reunited with her husband in a different camp where the conditions are even worse than in the first camp. The story is based on her mother’s letters discovered after her sister’s death but it is skilfully transformed into a compelling novel. It covers the factual background of conditions in the camps, the atrocities committed and the efforts to survive. But much more than that, it recreates real and complex characters. It shows the tensions, petty resentments and suspicions; the difficulties of sustaining relationships as well as the power of women’s friendship, love, endurance and the will to survive.
The book is a wonderful tribute to the courage and resilience of Ronny and all the prisoners of war. It is also a remarkable achievement for the talented Merilyn Brason.
by Myra joyce
As a small boy I was held with my mother in Santo Tomas. the internment camp in Manila described by Merilyn Brason in her novel about her parent's experience in Manila during the war. I am also the translator and editor of another Matador book in the same field, the Philippine war diary of Frenchman Paul Esmerian. I was surprised that the author decided to tell her mother's story in the form of a novel. rather than the memoir on which it is based, so I was intrigued to know how she would bring this off. I haven't seen the original diary, of course, but I am impressed with the novelist's achievement. She is particularly good at doing two things: recreating scenes in her imagination, and inventing dialogue, while all the time remaining true to the historical context of the war in the Philippines, one which she knows well from her reading and research. Again and again she brings her mother's experience to life, handling the highs and lows of her parents' evolving relationship with skill and understanding. As such, the book deserves to take its place in the short but valuable tradition of novels about civilian internee life in World War Two.
by Robert Colquhoun
I have just finished The Bamboo Bracelet which was really excellent and having started it I could barely put it down! It is so well written and captures the tense and frightening atmosphere of that time. My parents, grandparents and a number of relatives and many family friends were in St Tomas so, over the years, I have heard a lot about it and read quite a number of books as well, The Bamboo Bracelet being one of the best, if not THE best!
by John Hawkins
The Bamboo Bracelet is an inspirational account of one woman's determination to survive in a theatre of war far from home. That woman is Ronnie (the mother of the author Merilyn Brason) whose letters and diaries have been wonderfully woven together to produce a engrossing depiction of wartime in the Philippines and of lives to be preserved and nurtured during years of incarceration by the Japanese.
The fear, uncertainty and deprivations of these times are vividly brought to life and act as a counterpoint to the core of the novel which compassionately depicts a family struggling to establish itself in the worst of conditions. This is gripping writing that teases out what makes a family and what makes a society in a world turned upside down.
The Bamboo Bracelet is not simply social history, however valuable that is as memoirs from World War Two diminish with the passing years, but stands out as a loving portrait of a woman fighting to secure her family in desperate circumstances.
Merilyn Brason has written an extraordinary memoir that will resonate with anyone who cherishes the bonds of family that bind us all.
by Deborah Saunders
I found this book very gripping and an excellent read. As my sister and I were interned at Santo Tomas with our parents there are some events as well as places in the book that I can clearly recall. Events such as the flood - which was very scary. My father worked in the kitchen carrying huge vats of rice based gruel for us to eat and
I am pretty certain that this was the cause of his heart attack following the War !Thank you Merilyn
for writing this book about your parents and it brought back many memories of my childhood!!
by Pam (Dunn) Shields
A word about me.
I was conceived in the prisoner of war camp, Santo Tomas, in the Philippines and it is some sort of miracle that I survived! I was actually born in England, just, but by the time I was three months old I was on the way to Shanghai with Ronny, Pat and sister Catherine. I lived a nomadic childhood in mainland China, Nigeria, and the Channel Islands, deposited in boarding schools during term time from the age of seven. I trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and worked as a teacher before emigrating to Australia at the age of twenty one. I worked in a number of professions there including radio journalism before returning to the UK. After many false starts I finally found my vocation and re-trained as a psychotherapist and had my own practice for many years. I am the mother of three adult sons and have now retired to the Cotswolds where I enjoy another passion which is painting seascapes in oils. I have a website, exhibit and sell. This is my first book, triggered by my mother's unfulfilled urge to write the story of her war.