‘After Darkness’ by Christine Piper a Brief Synopsis

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This Resource is ‘A Brief Synopsis’ only for Mainstream English Year 12 Students studying After Darkness by Christine Piper AOS1 Unit 3 Analytical Study in the VCE Victorian Curriculum.

Read my other Post on ‘Legacy and Message of Author’ as the two Posts link up.

Christine Piper’s historical fiction, After Darkness deals with suppressed fragments of the past and silenced memories.  The protagonist, Dr Ibaraki attempts to move forward with life whilst also trying to hide past confrontations as well as any remnants of his past wrongdoings and memories.  The novel chronicles 2 journeys – the first is Ibaraki’s physical journey from Japan to Broome, to South Australia and back to Japan.  In the process, the young doctor undertakes a second, more private journey towards a greater understanding of self.  What begins as escape from his past ends as an opportunity to redeem it.

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Piper’s Message of Author is clear here – Ibaraki learns the notions of duty that have been inculcated [taught] from boyhood are less important than values such as empathy, forgiveness and the courage to speak out in the face of blatant immorality.  The relationships Ibaraki forms during his exile, particularly at Loveday, are critical to this metamorphosis [transformation].  Therefore, the novel is a story of personal growth that charts the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist.

The text consists of three intertwined narrative strands

  1. Ibaraki’s past in Tokyo in 1934
  2. His arrival in Broome in 1938 to work in a hospital there, and
  3. His arrival in a detainment camp in Loveday (South Australia) in 1942 after the outbreak of WW2.

The final chapter Tokyo 1989 concludes Ibaraki’s story, moving into the present tense to describe his life as an elderly man living in Tokyo.  Now in his 80’s he has to face the guilt of his past by writing a letter to the media which resolves the conflict between his conscience and the cultural values that have silenced his voice for so many years.  In a way everything in Ibaraki’s life has been leading to this moment.

Structure – Importance of Place

By moving between the 3 settings Piper emphasises the importance of place.  Each setting plays a critical role in Ibaraki’s emotional journey.  The chapters set in these different times and places are linked in that ideas or patterns of behaviour explored in one chapter, feed into the next.  Within each setting, events move inexorably [inevitably] towards a climax that marks an important turning point in Ibaraki’s life.  This structure enables the protagonist to look back on events with the hindsight imposed by time and distance, allowing Ibaraki to evaluate his choices and learn from past mistakes.

Historical Context of the Text

Piper draws on real events that occurred in Japan and Australia before and during WW2.  The most infamous part of the historical context is Unit 731, a covert [secret] medical research branch of the Imperial Japanese Army.  The young Dr Ibaraki is caught up in this research, where victims from Manchuria were injected with bubonic plague, typhoid, anthrax, cholera and other deadly pathogens, vivisections were conducted, without anaesthetic, to determine the progress of the diseases.  For many years the Japanese Government suppressed the truth of these horrific crimes.  It was not until 1989 that mass graves of bones were discovered in Shinjuku district of Tokyo.  Local residents fought official attempts to shut down investigations but gradually the facts about the horror started to emerge.

Language Devices

Piper writes in expressive, controlled prose and uses imagery, simile, metaphor, personification, foreshadowing that not only establish context but also delineate Ibaraki’s relationship to the landscape.  Often the imagery reflects his emotional state either directly or subliminally [subconsciously].

Language Devices Examples

Page Language Quote Explanation
1 Sense of place & colour imagery of landscape “The sun spread on the horizon, bleeding colour like a broken yolk” Ibaraki abandons his customary restraint to describe what he sees around him evokes a strong sense of place
46 Colour imagery of landscape “A pink spur of land crested with green rose out of the milky blue water” At first sight of Broome Ibaraki is struck by the unexpected colours
46 Colour imagery of landscape “a curve of rich red sand that bled into the azure sea” Broome is a strange clash of colours nothing like Ibaraki had ever seen in Japan
125 Colour imagery & nature “…the birds of paradise …spear shaped orange and blue petals perfectly encapsulate Broome’s hostile beauty” Juxtaposing the open beak of a bird represented by the bird of paradise plant is both hostile and beautiful
3 Landscape imagery that delineates Ibaraki’s emotional state “…. Haunted its edges, their limbs stretching skywards, as if begging for forgiveness” Travelling to Loveday by train Ibaraki passes a river flanked by dead trees the image hints at the guilt that haunts Ibaraki
198 foreshadowing “snow was falling as I walked home from the station – the first snow of the season” Foreshadowing the storm about to come in his life
174 foreshadowing “the rust coloured arc made me think of the transience of life.  And how with just one ill wind, everything could change” Foreshadowing trauma to come the fine red desert dirt is a reminder of life transience that everything can change & imminent crisis
13 Simile & Landscape imagery that delineates Ibaraki’s emotional state “… like blistered skin” Beside the camp Ibaraki sees a row of red gums with bark peeling from their trunks reminds him of the corrupted flesh of the victims in Unit 731 from Ibaraki’s past
204 Imagery of light and darkness Plunged into “darkness” Images of light and darkness are woven through the text, juxtaposing Ibaraki’s experiences in Tokyo with those in Australia.  After his marriage fails, he is plunged into darkness
45 Imagery of darkness that delineates Ibaraki’s emotional state “I was glad for the pocket of darkness that hid my tears” Ibaraki does not share the nationalistic fervour of the other Japanese when Broome is bombed instead, he mourns the destruction of the town and concern for former friends left behind
274 Imagery of light and darkness Broome is a “vivid wash of light” Comparing to the darkness he felt in Japan, Broome is a bright light, suggesting that things have become clearer during his time in Australia
Title metaphor “After Darkness” Darkness in the title acts as a metaphor for WW2 and the horror that affects nations and individuals alike.

The darkness also suggests the moral darkness that implicated Japan of committing war crimes on innocent people in Unit 731 representing the depths of depravity they reached.

After the darkness of war, the Japanese nation and individuals involved must make peace with themselves by coming to terms with their past.

Ibaraki writing a letter to the press exposes the darkness of Unit 731 to the light.  Moral doubt and secrecy are replaced by moral clarity.

In Piper’s novel issues associated with Identity / Culture / Place underpin dilemmas about Truth / Lies / Secrecy / Openness / Honesty / Discretion / Guilt / Failure / Forgiveness & Renewal

Race & Identity, Racism vs Nationalism

The fraught relationship between race & identity is seen at individual & national levels.  Physical hatred, fear and paranoia of the Japanese interned in Australia is a clear result of the war.  Other differences are characters who do not fit one race or the other as half castes.  The fenced off divide in the camp between the Japanese, Italians & Germans highlights segregation.


Characters are motivated by a sense of duty, beliefs & misconceptions about what this entails provide the moral tension at the heart of the novel.  Ibaraki grew up with the weight of family expectations on him to be a doctor.

During his time at the lab he faces a conflict between his conscience and sense of duty that has been underlined all his life.  Saving face and not bringing dishonour and shame on oneself or family is the dilemma Ibaraki faces regarding the work in Unit 731.  But his greatest betrayal is to himself, not speaking out against the evil.


The overarching context of war determines the destinies of many of the characters in the text, exerting a crucial influence on the ways in which personal stories are played out.  Ibaraki understands many of his choices have been driven by fear and his notions of duty and honour over conscience or love and as a result all his personal relationships have suffered as a result.


The text highlights the effect of men who find themselves classified as enemy aliens.  The text also explores the idea of displacement when Ibaraki loses his job and marriage, he also loses his sense of belonging.

Guilt & Atonement

Working at the research unit in Tokyo Ibaraki naively thinks he is working to develop vaccines for good purposes but the opposite is the reality.  This horrific past remains a wound that is impossible to forget.  By exposing the truth in the 1980’s he redeems himself.

Silence, Keeping Secrets & Loneliness

The theme of silence is prevalent in the novel.  Kimura threatens Ibaraki never to talk about the work in the lab.  He hides secrets all through his life leaving him lonely.  Piper stresses that opening up to people you care about is the way to maintain healthy relationships with mutual trust.

Past vs Present – concept of time

The dichotomy of past and present is encapsulated through the passing of time in the text mirrored with the three narrative strands and transformations in the environment as well as characters.  Piper alludes to the fact that the present is impacted by the past.


Piper exults the power of friendships formulated in life makes undergoing bad circumstances much better.  Friends understand one another on an emotional level and provide support needed.

Personal Conscience, Regret & Shame

Personal conscience is a prominent theme that humanises the regrets and mistakes one can make in their life.  Ibaraki pushes people away in order to realise that it makes the feeling of guilt and pain return.  Piper considers the necessity to speak your mind when a problem arises as the detriments that could occur afterwards can cause guilt and shame to last a lifetime.


Piper postulates that hope can be a significant guiding force for an individual when they encounter difficult circumstances in life.  Some characters enable Ibaraki to be a better person such as Johnny and Stan and they give the support he needs to overcome obstacles in life.

All Resources created by englishtutorlessons.com.au Online Tutoring using Zoom for Mainstream English Students in the Victorian Curriculum

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