South Kingstown Public Library Teens

Disguised: A Wartime Memoir

on February 4, 2009

Disguised: A Wartime Memoir by Rita la Fontaine de Clercq Zubli

Disguised follows the life of 12 year old Rita La Fontaine, a prisoner of war in Indonesia during World War II. In January 1942, when the Japanese began to invade the island of Sumatra, Rita’s family decide that it would be best for her safety if she disguised herself as boy, lowering the odds that she would become a “comfort girl” for lonely soldiers.

She agrees, cuts off her long hair, and becomes Rick, an identity that she would keep for over three years as she traveled to different POW camps. As Rick, she has the opportunity to work in offices and take Japanese language classes, leading eventually to her becoming the official camp translator. Acting as a liaison between the other prisoners and the soldiers, Rita takes on responsibilities beyond her years and she sees firsthand the hardships, sickness and daily struggles of the other prisoners.

Overall, this was a very well told story. Rita is forced to remain neutral in her work, keeping secrets and shouldering many adult responsibilities (such as knowing whose husbands have died in the men’s camp). There is always the lingering knowledge of the horrors of what could happen to her if her true identity is discovered. Most stories about WWII focus on Hitler and events in Europe; making Disguised a book with a unique perspective.

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