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Book Review: Escape from Java by Ruskin Bond

Though Ruskin Bond is purely into writing stories for children, Escape from Java is a fantastic war fiction, and for maintaining a sense of innocent childhood he has kept the story revolving around a nine-year- old boy, who lives in Java, one of the islands in Batavia, with his father, who is there for a business deal. They are English, and Dutch are the rulers of this island. And for locals, every white person is English for them, little do with their actual origins.

The story is staged against the WWII, especially when the power of Japan and its allies were increasing. With Singapore fallen to Japanese, positive rumours are that soon Java will be in the grip of Japan because Dutch is not as strong as the British to resist the mighty Japanese. All outsiders are busy escaping Java; no one is interested in saving it from Japanese. Soon Japanese begins bombing the islands as well, Java being no exception. Initially, the bombing was limited till dockyard region but soon the city parts begin receiving their share. Because of lack of trenches, people hide under the beds and tables during the air raids. Sono fears if Japanese captured the island, they will put civil folks for building the railways under perilous circumstances. And the narrator is willing to work as a railway worker.

The narrator and his friend, Sono, fly kites to pass their time but as Japan’s approach tightens they are forced to remain at home. Sono says that bombs are falling in Batavia not in the countryside thus one day they ride out of the town on bicycles. However while coming back they lose their way and roam directionlessly and when all of the sudden airplanes rattle in the sky above their heads they run like rats in fear. A bomb falls on a house near to them and soon they find themselves forcibly thrown on the road and their bicycles lay abandoned as they were never part of them.

When the frequency of air raid increases, the narrator’s father somehow arranges an escape to reach to India or any other safe country which is not active in the war. The narrator and his father leave all their precious items of interest like vintage stamps and books and chocolates to board a very small rusty outdated Dutch seaplane. Sono being a local boy cannot leave Java, thus while bidding farewell he gifts a jade seahorse to the narrator. Sono believes that sea horse is a symbol of good luck in the rough time. However, the journey didn’t go well as it was expected.  The plane is so clumsy and weak that it comes down in the sea midway. All passengers survive the air crash, except one. They all began sailing in a dinghy and spend 3 days and 3 nights in the sea before being rescued by a Burmese fishing ship and they all land up in Kolkata. His father sells some stamps, which were kept hidden in his wallet, for a thousand rupees. The narrator goes to Shimla in a boarding school, and his father joins RAF. The narrator gives the credit of surviving through the ordeal to the jade sea horse given by Sono.

It is a light war fiction underlining how a war can affect the simple lives of simple people, especially of friends. Children never like parting away from their friends with whom they play and build imaginations, but that is one of the ways of life to introduce children of malleable hearts to the reality of the world.


  1. Never read Ruskin Bond before. No specific reasons. Now I think, I should read this at the earliest.



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