A sweeping World War II saga of thwarted love, murder, and a long–lost painting.
In the summer of 1942, twenty–one–year–old Anne Calloway, newly engaged, sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora–Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world–until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.
A timeless story of enduring passion, The Bungalow chronicles Anne’s determination to discover the truth about the twin losses–of life, and of love–that have haunted her for seventy years.
ABOUT SARAH JIO
Sarah Jio is a frequent contributor to major magazines, including Real Simple, Glamour, Cooking Light, andRedbook, and is also the health and fitness blogger for Glamour.com. She lives in Seattle with her family.
A CONVERSATION WITH SARAH JIO
Q. What kind of research did you do in order to write this novel? Both The Bungalow and your first novel, The Violets of March, are partly set in the past – what is it about writing historical fiction that appeals to you?
While the idea for this novel came to me very quickly and vividly, I spent a few months researching life during the war, particularly island life, before I did the bulk of the writing. I wanted to get the feeling just right. But, ultimately, the biggest boost to my research came from discovering a diary kept by my great uncle while serving in the Army in the South Pacific during World War II. His daily accounts of life in the tropics during wartime were fascinating and informed my writing. I only wish he were still living so I could share this novel with him.
Q. Are the main characters in your novels the most challenging for you fully flesh out, or do you find it more difficult to bring the characters on the sidelines to life? When you’re writing, do you ever find yourself more drawn to one of the characters than you thought you might be at first?
I tend to find the sideline characters more challenging, as I want their presence to be memorable, and yet not too overstated. So the balance is an important one that I’m constantly striving to get right. And, oh yes, just like readers, I do find that I am drawn to one character more than another. But, it’s pretty typical for me to feel “one” with my heroines. While they are not me, and don’t always make the choices I make, I see them as I would friends, and I love them the same way too!
Q. What are you working on now? We got a glimpse of one of the characters from The Violets of March in The Bungalow – can we expect to see any of our favorites from The Bungalow cropping up in your next novel?
Yes indeed! I have so much fun with this, and I will share that my next novel, Blackberry Winter, which will be published in late 2012, will also feature a character or two from previous novels (and fans of The Violets of March will enjoy knowing that they will get to see Emily and Jack in a very interesting new chapter in their lives!).
Q. What drew you to the subject of the war in the Pacific for your second novel? Did you have grandparents who fought in World War II?
I first became fascinated with the South Pacific when my late grandfather shared stories of his military service during World War II. He was always very quiet about his time there, as many war veterans are, but he shared just enough to pique my curiosity, which simmered over the course of my lifetime. Also, while beginning to research this novel, I discovered the wartime journal of my great uncle, who fought in the South Pacific and wrote, in great detail, about his adventures and challenges there. His journal entries (as I mention above) fascinated me and provided valuable information for the setting and landscape of my story.
Q. In the story, the little beach bungalow down the shore from the base becomes Anne and Westry’s private sanctuary. Where did the idea for this bungalow come to you?
It’s funny, I was actually looking at photos of my honeymoon when the idea for The Bungalow first appeared in my mind. In 2001, my husband and I honeymooned in Moorea, a little island near Tahiti, and we stayed in a tiny, thatched–roof beach bungalow (if you’re thinking luxury, don’t: It was open–air, so there were bugs galore!). Still, it was a magical little place (despite the geckos and bug bites) that holds a very special spot in my heart.
Q. The present–day action of your first novel, The Violets in March, takes place on Bainbridge Island in Washington state and the heart of The Bungalow takes place on Bora Bora. Do islands as settings hold a special fascination for you?
Oh yes! I have always been fascinated with the romance and mystique of islands. I’m truly drawn to them in fiction and real life, and if I can convince my husband, I think we’ll become island stowaways at some point in the near future!
Q. Anne Calloway, the heroine of The Bungalow, is an intelligent, thoughtful woman who grows a rowdy sense of Marine humor on Bora Bora. Is she based on anyone you know or interviewed while doing your research?
Anne is purely a creation of my imagination, though I did think a lot about my grandmother while I was creating her character. Like Anne, my grandma was a nurse during the war, and though she wasn’t sent to the South Pacific, I suspect that she would have handled the heat (and the rowdy men) with just as much spunk, self–assuredness and strength.
- What are Anne’s initial feelings about marrying Gerard Godfrey? What do you think of her assessment early in the novel that “passion is for fools?” Did you expect her to eventually come to a different conclusion? How did she change as a person throughout the course of the novel?
- When Kitty tells Anne that she has signed up to go to the South Pacific, Anne decides suddenly to go with her. She says, “I needed to go to the South Pacific with Kitty. Why, exactly? The answer was still hazy.” Why do you think Anne felt so compelled to accompany Kitty? Out of friendship? Or reluctance to go ahead with her own wedding? Or do you believe fate had some hand in drawing her to the island?
- What do you make of Kitty’s fainting episode at the beginning of the novel? Do you think it was staged, like Stella suggested? What were your first impressions of Kitty?
- When Westry and Anne first meet, he says to her that “the tropics bring out the savage in all of us…this place has a way of revealing the truth about people, uncovering the layers we carry and exposing our real selves.” Did you find that to be true? In what ways?
- At the beginning of the novel, Anne is jealous of Kitty’s ability to live in the moment – she initially finds herself unable to do so. How does that change after she falls in love with Westry? What do you think the ability to live in the moment implies about the character of a person? How does it influence Kitty’s actions? Anne’s?
- What techniques does the author use to evoke the time period of the novel? The story takes place mainly in the past, but the very beginning and end are set in the present day. What does this framing lend to the novel? How does it color your reading of the part of the story set in the 1940s?
- Does Anne believe what Tita tells her about the bungalow – that those who set foot there are destined to face a lifetime of heartache? Do you? Does Anne live a life of heartache? Does Westry? Or is there more to it than that?
- How does Kitty change after she gives up Adella? Why do you think it is that she doesn’t seem to want to be friends with Anne anymore? When she explains the reasons behind her actions at the very end of the novel, did you sympathize with her?
- Consider the female friendships in the novel. How do Stella, Anne, Liz, Mary and Kitty all support one another? In what ways do they fail one another? Were you surprised by Mary’s death? Do you think anything could have been done to prevent it?
- Were you surprised by Westry’s behavior after Atea’s murder? Why did you initially think he acted the way he did? Were you surprised when the truth was finally revealed?
- When Anne visits her mother in New York, her mother tells her, “When you marry, make sure he loves you, really loves you.” Anne is sure that Gerard loves her when she marries him – but does Anne love Gerard then? Why do you think she marries him? Because she loves him, or because of what she assumes was going on between Kitty and Westry? Imagine yourself in a similar position – what would you do?
- Art plays a powerful role in this book. Why do you think Westry, Anne, and Jennifer are all so drawn to specific works of art? Have you ever experienced anything like this in your own life?
- What were your impressions of the end of the novel? Was it the fact that justice had finally been carried out that allowed Westry and Anne to reunite? Or was it simply fate? Ultimately, did you believe in the curse?