The Lonely War

Title: The Lonely War
Author: Alan Chin
Publisher: Zumaya Boundless
Buy link:
Genre: Historical M/M
Length: Novel (Print, 320 pages)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Summary Review: A lovely read, touching, sometimes painful, sometimes humorous, and at all times vivid.


Seaman Andrew Waters joined the navy because his father wished it. He didn’t expect to fall in love. Captured by the Japanese and sent to the infamous Changi prison camp, If he is to save the life of not just the man he loves but his shipmates, Andrew must make a choice that could brand him a traitor. The key issue keeping the US armed forces from going beyond Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to give gay servicemen equal rights is a blind fear of love relationships forming, not between enlisted soldiers but between officers and soldiers, which would undermine the chain of command. In his second novel, Alan Chin tackles this topic head on.


One of my favorite authors, Alan Chin invariably manages to combine an intriguing story with the kind of lush romanticism that seizes the reader and keeps him spellbound. I found his first novel, Island Song enchanting, and with The Lonely War, he has clearly matured as a writer.

A couple of problems got in the way of my full enjoyment of this novel, however, and I might as well get them off my chest. First, the author desperately needs another pair of eyes to look out for mistakes. I don’t mean the sort of typos that have become epidemic in today’s publishing and which I have despaired of ever seeing eliminated, but lapses rather more serious. Here, as one example, is a description from page 6: “he inhaled sharply, catching a whiff of Mitchell’s scent; beneath the pleasant odor of talcum powder he discerned the aroma of sweat moistened skin.” Three pages later, on the whaleboat carrying them to their ship, Andrew notices, “the faint scent of talcum powder mixed with sweat-moistened skin.” It is not simply that this jars, though it does. It is the kind of lapse the big-time critics love to pounce upon. Kirkus once speared me for repeating a description a couple of hundred pages later. They’d be all over this.

And since I’m carping, I will add that I felt some of the scenes in the Japanese prisoner of war camp strained my credibility. I’m not saying that they might not have happened as described, I have no real knowledge of life in Japanese war camps –for all I know, the author may be describing events that in fact happened in real life—which, alas, is irrelevant. In fiction, the litmus test is not, is something real, but does the author make it seem real for the reader. The Japanese camp, Changi, was reputed to be a hell-hole, but it comes across here sounding pretty cushy compared to my brother’s experiences as a prisoner of war in a German camp. I never get that sense of horror here that my brother’s tales and those of his fellow prisoners engendered, though in all fairness, horrific is not this author’s forte.

So, I waffled a bit over rating this book, because the flaws do diminish its impact somewhat, but in the end, what is good about it is so extraordinarily good that it simply outweighed any shortcomings. The prose is masterful. The characters are well drawn and believable. The pacing is beautiful and the ending is absolutely note perfect. This author always writes something more than just a story – he touches upon the universal truths, without ever becoming preachy. There is enjoyment to be had here, but there is wisdom to be gleaned from the book as well. Only the best writers manage that without short changing one or the other.

The Lonely War is a lovely read, touching, sometimes painful, sometimes humorous, and at all times vivid. Alan Chin remains one of my favorite writers. I always look forward to his next work and he is one of those authors whose work I never hesitate to recommend to others, as I do this one.


  • This was one of the best books I read in 2010. While feeling a bit intimidated at the size of it, I’d read a few dozen pages every night for a week until I had finished it.

    Having said that, I have to admit that it wasn’t until the second part (the Changi prison) that I felt the book kicking in. For one thing, I hated Andrew strange as it seem. He was too much of a Gary Stu for my taste in the first part of the novel.

    Once they were at Changi, however, Alan Chin flipped the characters, uncovering hidden depths to previously loathed characters (including Andrew and Hudson.)

    I do agree that certain aspects of Changi jarred with my assumptions of what a POW would go through. And yet, the narrative pulled me in.

    From what I know, there were some readers who hated the ending, but I couldn’t think of anything more fitting.

    Anyhoo, great review.

  • Thanks, Victor. I didn’t know about Fictionwise. That’s what I get for only thinking of Amazon when it comes to ebooks.

    Anyway, I just bought both of Alan Chin’s books in the paper versions from The Book Depository and am looking to getting them soon (one great benefit of ebooks is that I would already have them on my Kindle 🙂 ).


  • Eden, thank you for the nice words, but I have to say it’s a pleasure to review books like this one, because they are just so very good – even I sound good reviewing them, thanks to Alan Chin (and thanks to Jessewave for giving me a platform)

    Trust me, you won’t go wrong reading this one – or anything by Alan – I plan to do a review here shortly for his latest, Match Maker. I read this in ms., and it is his best yet.


  • Victor, if I had your way with words I wouldn’t be so afraid of saying this wrong, but when reading your posts, I become so fascinated by how you string words together that I have to reread a few times to make sure I didn’t miss an important point. I stare at the screen thinking “Wow! I wish I could write like that!”

    Fangirl moment aside, what a thoughtful review. I’d seen this offering and had wondered about it. You’ve resolved the mystery, and your high rating and accolades drive the point home that I need to find more time to read. Fabulous review.


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Born in Pennsylvania, raised in Ohio, lived most of my adult life in California (20 years Los Angeles area, 20 years San Francisco. 160 plus books, and counting.
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