This novel interweaves three stories set in the Asian theatre of WWII in the fertile crescent stretching from Singapore to Calcutta.
The first Chinese-Japanese-Eurasian tale is set in the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore, now being rapidly transformed as ‘comfort women’ are brought in. Complications arise as the head of the Kempeitai takes a fancy to the Anglo-Indian cabaret artiste, who was once the object of the Hotel Manager’s affections, while a noble Japanese officer falls in love with one of the Chinese comfort women. Given the harsh realities of wartime Malaya, a series of tragedies ensues as the narrator, Ashoke, and his friends, Lim-Siew and Tim O’Brien-D’Souza are forced to look on in impotent, hapless horror.
A second, true story from the Quit India Movement serves as an Indian counterpoint to the events unfolding at Raffles. The third tale involves Subhash Bose and the Indian National Army or INA, narrated by two of the principal historical protagonists, Major Fujiwara and Captain Saraswati. As the INA soldiers go on trial at Delhi’s historic Red Fort, all of India rises in revolt.
By the end, the tales become meditations on war itself, ranging far beyond the confines of a hotel which had embodied ‘all the exotic tales of the East’ and a fabled palace complex, that once rivalled Versailles. Netaji and Fujiwara will have decisively advanced the eventual post-War liberation of all of colonial Asia, while Ashoke and Liem-Siew and Tim will be marked forever by the tragedies they witness of little people caught between malign, feuding colonial forces.