“When My Girl Comes Home,” Pritchett’s favorite story, uses a disjointed narrative and shifting ambiguities to reflect the theme of the story. Hilda Johnson was the darling of Hincham Street, London, when she married an Indian and went East. She was reported to be incarcerated in a Japanese war camp under brutal conditions. For two years the entire street forged together and, despite the stone wall of several nations’ bureaucracies, persisted in obtaining information about her—and about her final release. Returning home, she is not pale or wan but well-fed and sleek, even sprightly. Hincham Street is shocked to hear that she married a Japanese officer and thus escaped the deprivations and suffering of a foreigner. Mrs. Johnson had been sewing for years and saving money for her girl’s homecoming; Mrs. Johnson becomes the moral center of the street.
The story portrays a woman who must have used her wiles (Pritchett is vague about many details and the reader must reconstruct the evidence) not only in Japan but also during her return trip, during which she met two Westerners who showered gifts on her. Gloster, one of the men, promises to find her and take her and her mother away to France. Gloster never comes. The tale, containing a multitude of characters, careens from one character to another, but the limited narrator is Harry Fraser, who provides the reader with fragmentary accounts. A real prisoner of the Japanese, Bill Williams, survived...
(The entire section is 527 words.)