Beyond the Bukubuk Tree

A World War II Novel of Love and Loss

Fiction - Military
395 Pages
Reviewed on 06/10/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

Beyond the Bukubuk Tree: A World War II Novel of Love and Loss by Loretta Goldberg is a bittersweet tale of the war in the Pacific with a fascinating twist. A young Australian Jewish doctor, Jake Friedman, is haunted by a car accident in which one of his nurses was killed, his uncertainty about his sexuality, and the rumors of the mass executions of Jews by the Nazis. Against the wishes of his beloved sister and despite being in a protected profession, Jake decides he must enlist and do his part to preserve democracy and the Jewish people. Posted to Rabaul, the capital of East New Britain, Jake will be part of the Australian forces set to defend this former German colony against invasion by the Germans, or possibly the Japanese if they continue their Asian expansion. On the ship to Rabaul, Jake meets Alex Whipple (Wip) a WWI veteran who willingly stands up for those being bullied and is prepared to fight for the weak and defenseless. The attraction between Jake and Wip is instantaneous and will become the focus of their time on an island that alternates between a tropical paradise and a “hell-hole.”

Beyond the Bukubuk Tree is a powerful exposition of human emotion and the horrors of war, especially for those unprepared for the conditions and environment. Author Loretta Goldberg has taken a real event, the defense of Rabaul, and woven a glorious story of love and loss around these events. Her two principal characters, Jake and Wip, are perfect as friends, confidantes, and lovers. Jake is a mixture of emotions; principally guilt as he tries to come to terms with the death of his nurse in a car accident when he was driving; his clear and undeniable sexual preference for males; and his genuine desire to appear normal to his colleagues, his family, and to be part of the continuation of the Jewish people. Wip, as an older man, has already accepted his sexuality. Yet he too is haunted by his past and the things he was forced to do to survive after World War I. The romance between Jake and Wip is beautifully written with the couple's love, care, and affection displayed on every page. I particularly appreciated that the actual love scenes were sensual and steamy without being graphic. What this story also conveys starkly and harshly is the terrible conditions these Australian soldiers endured in East New Britain. Initially set before the entry of Japan into the war, the Australian government was focusing most of its military assets and military might in North Africa and Europe, considering the soldiers in the Pacific to be of secondary importance. I appreciated the focus on the indigenous people of the country who played an enormous part in assisting the soldiers to escape the eventual Japanese invasion. This is a wonderful story that I was engrossed in from beginning to end. I highly recommend it.