world war 2

"The Last Double Sunrise" - Review

Dorothy Johnston reviews Peter Yeldham's latest work "The Last Double Sunrise", which is available now. Carlo Minelli must surely be the most engaging – and lucky – prisoner of war in Australian literature.

Minelli is dubbed the POW Artist when he enters a painting in the Francis Greenway award from a prisoner-of-war camp in Cowra, New South Wales. The painting is disqualified, but earns Minelli a fair amount of publicity, much of it sympathetic. He has come to Cowra by a circuitous and dangerous route, having arrived in Rome to take up an artistic scholarship at the Villa Medici on the very day Il Duce declares war. The Villa, run by the French government, is locked and twenty-one-year old Minelli is turned away. Rome is in uproar and it isn’t long before the young man is press-ganged into the army.

The dramatic events of the second world war are much more than a back drop to this skilfully told story. Yeldham is a master at weaving together the personal life of his protagonist with real historical events, such as the Allied attack on Sidi Barrani where Minelli is taken prisoner and, much later in the story, the Japanese prisoners’ breakout at Cowra. Minelli is utterly believable, both as an artist and a reluctant soldier. This is partly because readers first meet him as a child, already displaying his artistic talent, which is encouraged by his mother, herself an art teacher, and scorned by his father, who is determined young Carlo will take over the running of the family vineyard.

Minelli’s character is formed in adversity. Instead of this making him openly angry and rebellious, it teaches him patience. Determined not to give up on his art, he has the kind of open, honest personality that other people, including some of his guards and jailors, warm to, and that makes them want to help him.

Allied officers aboard an overcrowded troop ship carrying prisoners to Australia rescue Minelli from a savage beating, and make a refuge for him in their wireless room. An Australian army officer’s wife suggests he should start a studio in the camp at Cowra, helping the theatrical group by painting sets, teaching, and working on his own paintings at the same time. The suggestion is enthusiastically taken up, and almost immediately becomes a success.

After a few false starts, Minelli is also lucky in love, finding a young Australian woman who is a match for him in every way.

As a protagonist, his trials and dangers, his hopes and feelings and ambitions are a joy to read about. The story of Italian prisoners of war, first in England, then Australia, is fascinating in itself, and told with verve and compassion. The Last Double Sunrise confirms Peter Yeldham’s reputation as an outstanding writer of historical fiction.

Peace, Pacifism and Peter Yeldham

Peter Yeldham's done a lot in his life. He's shared an office with Spike Milligan. (Yes, that Spike Milligan.) He's written for the BBC, the ABC, for television and radio. He's an award-winning and nationally celebrated Australian story-teller. Across the decades, he's turned to war and its horror as a source of inspiration for his many novels. But unlike so many war narratives of the current age, Peter's work never celebrates violence. In fact, most of the drama in Peter's books is away from the battlefield. It's the human action that dares you to read on. Scandalous romances, international intrigue, or the heart-breaking journey of refugees. It's this, well-researched, human face of his narratives that has made him one of the countries most enduring authors.

Here's what some readers have said:

"...really interesting history, especially about the atomic bombs and bomb testing in Marling I hope to read this book a second time." Robyn on Above The Fold

"The story flows easily with Yeldham’s fluent writing style. I found it to be an entertaining and thought-provoking read. 4★s." Mary on Above The Fold

"Yeldham’s story is a beautiful tribute to the Lost Generation, an intensely moving novel that will haunt the reader long after the final page." Erin on Barbed Wire and Roses

"Yeldham has a strong reputation as a historical novelist as well as a writer for film and television. Dragons in the Forest will no doubt make that reputation stronger still." Dorothy Johnston on Dragons In The Forest

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