The story centers around a specialized film propaganda unit(the first of its kind in Australia) assembled to create short films with thegoal of relieving fears of a Japanese attack on Australia. The shorts weredesigned to help prevent mass exodus from the northeastern coastal cities and,as a by-product, convince the Japanese that this area would be too difficult toinfiltrate to be worth their effort. The need to allay fears grew from theJapanese bombing of nearby Singapore, and the fact that trade agreementsbetween Australia and Japan prior to the war gave Japan intimate knowledge ofshipping channels into Brisbane.
The film unit adopted the name (Defense) MinistryCommunications Unit, later abbreviated to MCU. Their headquarters was locatedin Brisbane, a strategic location on the northeast coast of Australia. Brisbanewas also the headquaeters of the allied forces in the South Pacific, with theU.S. General Douglas MacArthur in the lead. The propaganda unit started withsix members tasked with producing films as well as magazine and newspaperarticles, and later grew into several teams. The book is set in severalAustralian locales, but mainly in Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra. The reader isalso taken to London, Los Angeles and San Francisco as the story progresses. Itwas interesting to read about media production during WWII. Although this was awork of fiction, there are actual historical elements included.
There are various things Smith could do to improve thiswork. For example, the smooth, rapid progress the MCU manager experienced insetting up a brand new media unit during war time, and the absence ofimpediments while securing items that were in short supply required the readerto suspend disbelief until the story got under way. The first 20 or so pages ofthe book were a bit slow-going due to the inclusion of a large number ofmilitary acronyms and the introduction of several characters in rapidsuccession. While the characters were realistic and they were given plausiblebackground stories, I would have liked more dialogue, more interaction betweenthem. Smith does include romantic interest and the development of friendshipsbetween members of the MCU, but it reads less like a novel and more like atactical report, a telling of a series of actions taken by the film crew andpeople who worked with them.
Although improvements can be made, Smith did several thingswell in this book. He did extensive research in producing this work ofhistorical fiction. True historical elements from the South Pacific theater ofWWII include the Centaur hospital ship that was torpedoed in May 1943,coastwatchers employed by the Australian military, the 1942 African-Americanmutiny in Townsville, internment camps holding Japanese, German and Italianresidents of Australia during the years of the war, and of course CinesoundProductions and Movietone Newsreel entities creating short propaganda films tobe aired in movie theaters.
Readers more familiar with U.S., Japanese and Europeanperspectives on WWII will enjoy learning of these events through the story, ifthey were unfamiliar with them prior to reading the book. Smith also organizedhis book into short chapters, which helps the story to move along at a nicepace. It was exciting to read about the different locales to which the crewtraveled in order to film aspects of the Australian war effort, and Smith drawsthe reader further into the story with descriptions of the Australian land- andseascapes.
Official Review: The Ministry Communications Unit fromOnLine Book Club
by Eatsleaves 24 Jun 2016, 18:33