Agnes Newton Keith was an American author and conservationist, best known for her three autobiographical accounts of life in North Borneo (now Sabah) before, during, and after World War II. Born in 1901 in Illinois, she moved to Borneo in the 1930s after marrying Henry George Keith, an Englishman who was the Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture in North Borneo.
Her first book, “Land Below the Wind” (1939), introduces readers to the idyllic pre-war life in the British colony, where she embraced the local cultures and natural environment. Her writing is celebrated for its vivid descriptions and humorous insights into colonial life. The sequel, “Three Came Home” (1947), chronicles her harrowing experiences in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, highlighting her resilience and strength in the face of adversity. The final book in the trilogy, “White Man Returns” (1951), recounts her family’s post-war return to Borneo to witness the rebuilding efforts.
Keith’s work offers a unique and personal perspective on a tumultuous period in history, marked by colonialism, war, and the beginning of recovery. Her legacy extends beyond literature; the house where she lived in Sandakan is now a museum, preserving the memories of a woman whose love for Borneo and its people remains evident through her enduring words.