The Ginger Tree

Oswald Wynd


The Ginger Tree

Oswald Wynd


In 1903 Mary Mackenzie sails for China to marry the British military attaché: a man who turns out to be every bit as chilly as the Peking winter. During one of his many absences, Mary has an affair with a Japanese soldier, Count Kurihama, but her pregnancy by him is impossible to keep secret.

Rejected by her husband, mother and country, and forced to leave her daughter behind, Mary flees to Japan. The Ginger Tree is the fictional account of her survival, isolated and alone, in this alien culture.

‘absolutely fascinating.’ - Dame Diana Rigg
‘By the end, it is the reader who sheds the tears his heroine has kept back for forty years.’ Nicholas Shakespeare, Sunday Times
‘Sensitively written, beautifully understated.’ - Japan Times
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The Ginger Tree
ISBN: 978-0-907871-03-3
Format: 312pp demi pb
Price: £12.99
Place: China/Japan

Author Biography 

Oswald Wynd was born in Tokyo of Scots parents who had left their native Perth to run a mission in Japan. He went to school in Japan where he grew up speaking both English and Japanese. In 1932 he returned with his parents to Scotland, went to Edinburgh University and began to write novels. When war came he joined the Scots Guards but was suddenly commissioned into the Intelligence Corps and sent to Malaya. At the time of the Japanese invasion, he was attached to the Indian Army on the east coast of Malaya, and his brigade covered the final withdrawal to Singapore. Cut off by the Japanese advance, he was lost alone for a week in the Johore jungle. Eventually he was captured and spent more than three years as a prisoner of war, during which time he was mentioned in despatches for his work as an interpreter for prisoners. In Hokkaido, during the last year of the war, he began a novel, Black Fountains, which in 1947 won the Doubleday Prize.

After the war he returned to Scotland via the Philippines, having now spent some twenty-three years of his life in the Far East. He lived in Scotland until his death in 1998 writing, among other books, highly successful thrillers under the pseudonym of Gavin Black.

Extract from Chapter One

SS Mooldera, off Aden January 9th, 1903

I was sick yesterday on my birthday, after not having been sick crossing the Bay of Biscay and even in the storm off Malta. It seems silly to have been sick in a little sea like the Red Sea, but when I did get to the deck at sunset, to escape from Mrs Carswell’s groaning, the Second Officer came up beside me at the rail and said that I had been unwell because of the ground swell from Somalia. He said that many people who can stand up to all sorts of bumping and knocking about in storms are unable to stand up to a heavy ground swell. He is quite a nice man, though he must be thirty at least. He has very big hands. Too big. I did not tell anyone it was my birthday yesterday, not even Mrs Carswell. She was being sick, too, much worse than me.

The swells are like little hills on the move, completely smooth and grey. As we go up sideways on one of them you can see the others coming at us from the horizon. The sky is grey, too, and it does not seem able even to redden up for sunset. I am back in the cabin writing this, up in my berth above Mrs Carswell, who is still groaning. I would not have believed that anything could creak like this ship creaks. It is stifling in here. They have put tin things outside the portholes to catch the breeze, but there is no breeze, not even from the ship’s movement.

I have decided right now that I must not send this notebook to Mama as I promised. Ever since Port Said I have found myself wanting to write down things that she must never see. I have heard that people change east of Suez and that could be what is happening to me. The day before yesterday, when I was beginning to feel not too well, I still wanted to eat curry and I have always hated curry. It is almost frightening, that you can travel in a ship and feel yourself changing.

It is not happening to everyone. Most of the passengers are too old to change. Nothing would ever change Mrs Carswell. I wish that, if I must have a chaperone, it did not have to be Mrs Carswell and we did not have to share a cabin.

I left off my new corset two days ago. Now I know I can never send this to Mama. Mrs Carswell has not found out yet since we dress and undress, at least mostly, behind our bunk curtains. I just could not get into that corset up here in the heat under the roof, which is why I left it off first time. Then I smuggled it down while she was still sleeping and hid it away in my cabin trunk 

under the little sofa. Fortunately I have a small waist even without having it held in, and she has not noticed yet, but I will have to be careful. She has the sharpest eyes. They are like jet beads.

Mama would be horrified if she could read me writing like this. Perhaps I do it because there is no one I can talk to on this ship. In the First Class they are all old except the Prices, and Mrs Carswell says the Prices are not suitable. She calls them ‘pushing’ and thinks they ought to be travelling Second Class because all he is going out to is a position with the Singapore Water Board. Mrs Carswell says that in Singapore they will soon learn their place, because people in the Public Works Department are not acceptable socially. In Hong Kong Mr Carswell is a lawyer, which means that his wife can leave cards at Government House once a year and the Governor’s Lady then leaves cards on her. Mrs Carswell is on the tea-party list. She says I will learn about these things in Peking.

In all the things they did for me before I came away no one told me anything about how not to have perspiration. If China is as hot as this, am I going to be damp for the rest of my life? I have used up all my eau de Cologne already and it only makes you feel cool for about five minutes. I cannot ask Mrs Carswell what she has done about perspiration all her years in hot countries. She must have done something? Perhaps not.

SS Mooldera January 11th, 1903

We were right out in the Indian Ocean before the Captain spoke to me for the first time. I was about to go down from the top deck because of the coal smuts coming from the funnel when he came along from the bridge. He is a big man and very hairy, with the kind of beard that never seems to be trimmed, wisps coming out of it. He does not appear very sociable and I turned away so that he would not have to speak to me but he made a point of coming to the rail and asking if I had my sea legs again after the big swells. I said I had, then told him that I did not like the Indian Ocean very much, was it always this grey colour? He said we were passing through the tail of a monsoon and usually the sea was a wonderful blue. I have not seen any wonderful blues yet, not even in the Mediterranean which was grey, too, only a different kind of grey. This is a hot grey, with vapours off the water. The Captain said that from where we are now all the way to ice in Antarctica there is nothing but sea, four thousand miles of it. He trained in sailing ships on the Australian grain run 

and they used to go through the Roaring Forties which are just north of the ice and once he was nearly shipwrecked at an island which is all black rock mountains and huge and no one lives there because terrible winds blow all the time. Then he must have thought he was frightening me for he said in a broad accent: ‘But dinny fash yersel’, lassie, you’ll no’ be shipwrecked.’ Though his name is Wilson I had not realised he was Scotch until then, which somehow made me feel safer on this ship.

After the Captain had gone and before I could escape from the smuts, which I was sure were getting in my hair, the Second Officer arrived, at once wanting to know what the Captain had been saying. The Second Officer comes from Cardiff in Wales and his voice is singsong and he keeps putting one of his hands as near as possible to mine on the rail without actually touching me. He knows I am going to China to get married because Mrs Carswell told him when she found him standing by my deck chair one day just after we left the Suez Canal. While we were still in the Mediterranean he never even looked at me. The heat does make people different.

Last night I went down to dinner by myself because Mrs Carswell could only take some clear soup brought to her by the stewardess, though she was sitting up in her bunk watching me do my hair. I hope she hasn’t guessed about the corset. Some other people did not come down to the main saloon either, which left me and the Malacca Judge almost alone at our end of the long main table. The Malacca Judge is very old with a big tummy, and is coming back from his last home leave before retiring. He used to drink whisky with his dinner, but stopped it, I think because he saw Mrs Carswell did not like this. I would not have expected a judge to be worried about what Mrs Carswell might be thinking. Last night he had three whiskies, starting with the soup. The ship was still rolling and those boards they call ‘fiddles’ were raised all around the tables to keep the plates from landing in our laps. The Judge offered me a glass of wine and of course I refused, but it was strange, I really wanted to say yes. Once or twice I noticed the Captain looking at me from the top of the table. Mr Davies seemed to be doing this quite often from his much smaller table. I don’t think he likes the company he has at mealtimes, they are all old, even a woman who dresses young though she must be forty. At night she shows a lot of bosom. Mrs Carswell says she is a slut even though she is the wife of the British Consul in Swatow.