A story about a love that transcends all boundaries, from one of Australia?s best loved authors.

5 AUGUST, 1944

Over 1000 Japanese soldiers break out of the No.12 Prisoner of War compound on the fringes of Cowra. In the carnage, hundreds are killed, many are recaptured, and some take their own lives rather than suffer the humiliation of ongoing defeat.

But one soldier, Hiroshi, manages to escape.

At nearby Erambie Station, an Aboriginal mission, Banjo Williams, father of five and proud man of his community, discovers Hiroshi, distraught and on the run. Unlike most of the townsfolk who dislike and distrust the Japanese, the people of Erambie choose compassion and offer Hiroshi refuge. Mary, Banjo?s daughter, is intrigued by the softly spoken stranger, and charged with his care.

For the community, life at Erambie is one of restriction and exclusion ? living under Acts of Protection and Assimilation, and always under the ruthless eye of the mission Manager. On top of wartime hardships, families live without basic rights.

Love blossoms between Mary and Hiroshi, and they each dream of a future together. But how long can Hiroshi be hidden safely and their bond kept a secret?


2018 NSW Premier's Literary Awards (shortlisted). Judges comments:

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is storytelling with a sense of great purpose and intimacy with place. Paying close attention to historical detail, Anita Heiss illuminates mid-twentieth century Aboriginal life on the Erambie mission in New South Wales, with all its depredations mirrored in a prisoner of war internment camp ‘down the road’. Heiss is to be congratulated for fictionalising the lived experience of both the mission inhabitants and the Japanese prisoners.

The characters in Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms are lovable as well as utterly believable. The parallels between two subjugated peoples — Koories and Japanese POWs — come to life, even in as unlikely a setting as an airless bomb shelter where love might blossom. This novel meditates on freedom and compassion set against a dramatic moment in Australia’s history. It captures an historic moment which reverberates in the present.


2018 Dublin International Literary Award (finalist). Librarian's comments:

A work of compelling historical fiction and rich characterisation, this novel cleverly achieves the twin feats of highlighting Australia’s recent history of racial segregation, and emphasising social and political themes of particular relevance in contemporary Australia, such as immigration and displacement.


2017 QLD Literary Awards Peoples Choice Award (finalist)


Watch Anita on indigistream talking about writing Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms.


Laura Kroetsch, festival director Of Adelaide Writers' Week talks about Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms
Reviews and interviews


"In depicting an intimate sideline to the story of the breakout of more than 1000 Japanese prisoners from their camp in Cowra on August 5, 1944, Anita Heiss' Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms explores different territory from her predecessors... Heiss' tact and intelligence are sustained to the end of this bold novel of the wartime home front.' - Sydney Morning Herald (read full review here!)


"With deftness and a lightness of touch, Heiss accords her protagonists privacy in their intimate moment. The war is unshakably present, but it recedes into the background without overpowering the shy advances of her two protagonists.

Heiss' strengths as a writer are on full display: the blossoming romance between Hiroshi and Mary refuses an ?us vs. them?, ?goodies vs. baddies? mentality, instead presenting a complex view of cross-cultural relationships. Japanese, Italian, Aboriginal and white identities are brought into sometimes uncomfortable proximity.' - Imogen Matthews in The Conversation (read full review here!)


"Heiss explores the cultural differences and the selective xenophobia with clarity and historical integrity, giving a strong sense of their lives with atmospheric details? The community of the mission comes alive, and just as it is a joy to read of such a tight bunch, it is painful to read the everyday effects of brutal government policies that seem awfully recent. The history has been meticulously researched, and the result is Heiss?s great achievement: the reader is transported in place and time." The Australian (Read the full review here)

"Heiss's writing is lyrical and engaging, as she paints a vivid picture of rural life in mid-twentieth-century Australia. At heart, this is a novel about finding love in unexpected places, and learning from those who we see as different from ourselves, by recognising that we are ultimately all alike in our shared humanity." - HerCanberra (read full review here!)

"Part romance, part spotlight on the discrimination experienced by Aboriginal people subject to the oppressive Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (NSW), this book  uncovers a piece of Australia?s history that is not often discussed" This is an important book." - Tinted Edges, (read full review here!)


"The question is not whether love can cross boundaries of geography or culture (there has been centuries of evidence that yes, it can) but Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms asks a different question: are we ready to embrace the fact that there are so many alternate histories just waiting to be shared?" - NZ BookLovers (read full review here!)


"The narrative tension in the novel is driven by the reader’s interest in how this doomed relationship might be resolved, but the book is much more than a star-crossed romance.  Comic elements lighten the mood in the characterisation of the incorrigible gossip Marj and the mission manager nicknamed King Billie, and an optimistic tone is achieved despite the circumstances through episodes of loving and happy family life.  At the same time, the novel is a coming-of-age story and so we see Mary occasionally behaving like a typical adolescent irritated by her mother’s ‘interference’." - ANZ LitLovers LitBlog (read full review here)


"While the themes of Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms cover racial segregation, the White Australia Policy, and wartime hardships it is a story ultimately of friendship, love, hope, and the redemptive power of compassion." AusRom Today (read interview here!)


"Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is beautifully woven Australian historical fiction. I felt a huge sense of loss when I read the last page; I just wanted more! Even now days after finishing it I still feel the need to be a part of Mary and the Wiradjuri peoples lives." - Simply Reading (read full review here!)


"Above all, this is a love story, and leaving history aside, the story is beautifully rendered and had me in tears by the end." - Write Note Reviews (read full review here!)


"Anita Heiss doesn?t sugar-coat the facts, this is an honest story rooted in history. The White Australia policy, the Japanese hatred and the severe restrictions put on lives due to skin colour are all there. But the tone is much more gentle and loving than you might expect. Overall this is a love story and a beautiful one that will being a tear to the eye." - Sam Still Reading (read full review here!)


"Cowra, Hiroshima inspire Heiss saga" - West Australian (read online here!)


"As well as being a tender love story, it is a fine exploration of two different cultures and the confronting policies of the time. The novel also offers a lesson in the art of compassion, in the face of hopelessness."  - Mrs B's Book Reviews (read full review here!)


"Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is at heart a story of love: Hiroshi and Mary?s love for one another, the unconditional love from family, the love Aboriginal people have for the land, and the restorative power that true love of any kind can have on the human soul." - J'aimee Brooker, AusRom Today (full review here!)


"Overall, this is a great Australian novel, one that is deserving of every bit of recognition that it gets." - Kathryn's Inbox (read full review here!)


"If the mark of a good story lies in its power to make you think, and to make you question, than this is likely one of the best books of the year." - Hush Hush Biz (full review here!)
"This is where fiction really sheds light on situations and experiences where text-books cannot." - Heather Ewings (full review here!)
'While the pace of this novel may be slow, it deserves a place on the bookshelves of those interested in Aboriginal affairs and Australia’s more recent history.' - Erich Mayer, Arts Hub
Anita talks to Daniel Browning on Radio National's AWAYE! program. Listen here!


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