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“King Rat: The Epic Novel of War and Survival,” by James Clavell. Narrated by Simon Vance. The Asian Saga, Book 4. Clavell is one of the more interesting and noteworthy novelists telling tales of Asian continent happenings. His descriptions are educational in that they often explain the oriental milieu and therein mindset. He is one of the best at creating characters one can associate with and find intriguing. He does not fail us in King Rat; it is a great read (or listen).
Audible calls his compilation of works the Asian Saga, although there is no single or universal saga in Clavell's works. They tell of no one heroic and detailed account of a single epoch. Nevertheless, with few exceptions this “Saga” is well worth the read; at least for King Rat, Nobel House and Shogun. They are outstanding works of literature– while the rest are merely good. I would suggest Audible’s Book numbering is way out of kilter. King Rat is his first novel and it should be read first (although its societal teachings discern the distinctions between the British, Australians and Americans rather than in his later books which can be classified as comparisons between western and oriental values).
King Rat is a marvelous read. The setting is a Japanese prison camp for captured World War II ally combatants. From its initial opening lines there is one happening after another in how the weak, the shrewd, the moralistic and the depraved interact under the control of the Japanese to create their own camp or sub societies and conduct commerce among themselves. Clavell manages to put tension and meaning into every sub story and they all culminate into a cliff hanger circumstance by the end of the book. Clavell is a philosopher and through his characters and their personalities he reveals philosophical truths about capitalism and personal honor. He gives the reader much to think about and his stories always leave you with long lingering feelings after the read.
In this work though he takes on much more than mere political concepts. I was surprised that at even this early date (1962) Clavell defends transvestites long before our western societies matured and learned to understand and accept the sexual drives of others. There is more here though; for example he is able to study the place of husbands and wives in enduring long and unknown separations. He does this by at various points in the story, when the story focuses on a particular imprisoned character he often will follow that chapter with a chapter on what did or very well might have happened to their lovers at home while they were in war detention. At the very end of the book we actually learn the truth about many of those sojourns into the lives of the separated spouses.
The main character is the “King,” an American imprisoned soldier modeled after an Ayn Rand entrepreneur type who sets us a moral but very capitalistic system of trade in the camp. The King then meets and takes up a friendship with Peter Marlowe, a British officer with some family ties to the upper middle class, and it the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn friendship and adventures of the two that make this story great. Truly a fine and engrossing read.
That alone would give this book 5 stars but after the story ends, there is another small story that begins, when the camp is rescued by the allies when Japan surrenders. Remember Clavell, himself, was a prisoner of the war during WWII in a Japanese encampment. He gives us a stunning understanding of the mind of the liberating soldiers, their compassion and total misunderstanding of what three to five years in captivity means. Then Clavell shows us how the inmates react and most of all how the King becomes an ordinary man once the world is put back into its rightful place and we are left to consider who these men we came to know so well are and where they saved or further destroyed in being liberated? This book is very much in the character of a Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Excellent!
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
This is my second-favorite Cavell novel, behind Shogun. This story of WWII POWs in the Pacfic Theater both humanizes and brings to life the sub-human conditions that these heroes were foced to endure. Clavell himself had been a POW during this period, lending a personal level of authenticity and unique detail to the story. Highly recommended.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful