Author: Peter Winter
Promises is written by an Adelaide Hills Vietnam Veteran and it was recommended to me by a mutual friend. I read widely and am not shy to tackle pretty much any genre but I do love to promote debut novels as well as local authors. Promises ticks both of those boxes so I couldn’t resist.
Peter Winter has also published The Year I Said Goodbye, which is a collection of letters written while he was in Vietnam during the war. Promises is Peter’s first foray into fiction though his personal experiences certainly colour the narrartive.
The story begins in 1965 at the Royal Adelaide Show with Rowan showing livestock. He is a student at Roseworthy Agricultural College with his future planned out after finishing. He plans to do some more study in Queensland and then head to New Guinea to work, though the national draft and conscription lottery may change that.
Rowan meets an intriguing girl at the Show, Priscilla Priestly, and after a short discussion they go their separate ways; only to meet again at a party and spend some quality time together which forms the basis of a friendship that grows ever stronger.
I found Promises to be quite a heavy read, it wasn’t light and easy to read; but it wasn’t hard to read either. The pace is quite slow and it isn’t action packed. Promises is a book about people caught up in situations they couldn’t control.
The book follows both Priscilla and Rowan so much of it is set in Adelaide and the Hills, places that are now quite close to home for me. Winter writes quite descriptively and everything is very detailed; people, places and events.
Priscilla was in an accident which left her badly scarred and wheelchair bound but with the support of her widowed mother she refuses to let that limit her. She is determined to make the most of her life and not be defined by her wheelchair. She is independent and doesn’t like people to assume she needs help because they can’t see past her chair.
Rowan is the first male to truly see her and their friendship deepens into her first love as he supports and encourages her growth. He makes adjustments around her house to assist her and help her do the things many of us take for granted.
All of Rowan’s plans are thrown into disarray long before he discovers he is being drafted because even the possibility is enough to put a hold on his New Guinea plans.
Much of the focus is on the affect Rowan’s national service has on both him and those he loves. The separation changes bonds and the experiences of all the characters change who they are and how they relate to one another.
The book covers the whole two years of Rowan’s service and though the focus is more on how that affects him we are also right there to see all that he endures and experiences.
I feel that this is a very authentic account, I feel that this was written with firsthand experience of what it was like to be posted in Vietnam. I knew going in that Winter was a Vietnam Veteran so maybe it feels so authentic because I know he was there but there is a part of me saying I would have felt that anyway. He lived through the service but also the reactions of those at home.
Promises is a unique look into life in the mid-sixties for a young man conscripted to service, the trials he faces at home as a consequence of his service as well as his time in the service. If you are after an action packed account of the Vietnam War then this one is not for you, but if you are after an insightful and honest look at the effect of the war then you might just love it.
The challenges faced by Priscilla were also fascinating. At a time when society was just beginning to change and the younger generation started to fight for the rights of many minority groups, as well as fighting against conscription, Priscilla was being made to ride in cargo carriages on the train and her school was refusing to make changes so that she could attend school with ease.
This book is a fascinating look at life in a time of turmoil in the world. It is an impressive debut that I thoroughly enjoyed.