Summary: compelling and disturbing
Comment: Interesting viewpoint set in the second world war. Reminds me of the Pearl Jam song, "Rats", and uses the same comparison between rats and humans albeit to different ends. It suggests comparisons along many levels, humans and rats, British and American, friends and enemies, us and them, strong and weak, that, for my taste, is a kinder examination of the horrors of war and what humans are capable of doing to other humans. At the end, there's room for introspection.
Summary: Trading Conscience for Survival in a Japanese POW Camp
Comment: The setting is a Japanese POW camp near Singapore in early 1945. After years of Japanese neglect,
near starvation diets, tropical diseases, and increasing hopelessness of liberation, British,
Australian, and American prisoners are dropping like flies. A young and idealistic British pilot,
Peter Marlowe, forms an unlikely friendship with a clever, street-smart enlisted American, 'the
King'. While all the prisoners are literally walking skeletons suffering from every disease the
tropics have to offer, the King inexplicably manages to eat, live, and dress normally. The King's
However, in Changi trading is a zero-sum gain and absolutely forbidden. (In this strange world, the
commanding British officers strictly enforce Japanese orders against their fellow inmates.) For one
prisoner to eat, another will go hungry (ier). And the King is the master at not going hungry -
looking out for No. 1. The king even outtrades his captors. Life is comparatively sweet for the
King, albeit lonely. After all, the entire camp burns with covetous envy regarding the King.
Nearly, everyone depends on the King, though, to make a life-saving trade - a watch for a bowl of
rice, $20 for an orange, etc. The King decides to take the unaffected Marlowe under his wing as a
sort of junior partner.
Marlowe is decidedly fascinated by this dynamic man (without a conscience?). And the King, in turn,
remains mystified by Marlowe's idealism and self-sacrifice. The King lets Marlowe in on his
adventures and his secrets, something the whole camp would like to know, too. The ever imaginative
King comes up with a brilliant scheme to both make money AND get revenge on his camp enemies. And
this perverted world comes to a surrealistic end with the closing of the Pacific War. Though some
survive Changi, the experience will haunt the survivors for the rest of their lives. The question is
who will survive.
This is an outstanding book, which I read in the space of two days, barely able to put the book down.
Clavell's book - based on his actual imprisonment in Changi - describes the truly surrealistic world
of an actual Japanese POW camp and the men within it. However, it is strictly a fictional account -
only 2% of the prisoners held in Changi died according to the Australian War Memorial's Creation of Changi Prison Museum article by Kevin Blackburn.
Summary: "Changi was genesis, the place of beginning again"
Comment: We should be really grateful for the strike that prevented Clavell to work as a screenplay writer and director for a few weeks in the early sixties and led them to write his first novel. In this edition there is a nice prologue by his daughter explaining what prompted him to write this book, and how quickly he wrote it. The novel is a fictionalized retelling of Clavell's experiences in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Singapore.
Clavell does an amazing job in describing the personalities of the different characters that take part in the story. The fact that the camp held American, English and Australian prisoners provided him with the opportunity to showcase his acute understanding of the different cultures. If you add on top of that the Japanese and the locals that were in charge of managing the camp, you will find a wealth of characters that make this a mesmerizing read. There are two characters though, that are at the center of this tale, and whose actions could serve as a study in sociology. One is an American, the King, who is a corporal that has the ability to facilitate commerce, which is prohibited by camp rules, and therefore makes a very nice living, especially when compared with everyone else. When the King meets Peter Marlowe, a British Lieutenant, the contrast of personalities and moral codes could not be clearer. Thus starts an unusual friendship that will test Marlowe's character and convictions, since he will have to decide between compromising his morals in return for better living conditions for him and his friends, and sticking to his guns and keep on living miserably.
One thing that you can tell as soon as you start reading this novel, and that is confirmed later, is that Clavell is an excellent narrator and has a gift for describing characters and give them a soul. This helps understand how he can hold the reader's attention without it wavering in lengthy novels like Shogun. In this case, the parts that deal with the secret commerce help provide the story with variety, because they speed up the pace and change the tone. It is also interesting that this edition includes the passages related to the situation of those left behind, mainly wives and kids. These provide additional insights into the lives of the prisoners, helping us understand their motivations and behavior better.
In summary, this can only be defined as an excellent read. Although it has some scenes that may be hard on some readers for their brutality, I believe that the great majority of people will love it.
Summary: Excellent novel
Comment: After reading Tai-Pan, I obviously wanted more of the same. This is exactly what King Rat is. It takes place in a very different time and surroundings, but you know you're reading James Clavelle. The beloved character descriptions, the adoration of the hero (Tai-Pan in Tai-Pan and the King in King Rat), the great plot and events, etc. Great book!
Summary: A Classic About One Man's Temporary Power
Comment: Everyone should have a copy of this book. In a POW camp during WWII, the stars and titles don't really matter much. The low ranking soldier becomes the most powerful with his natural cleverness and slick dealings. In the most horrible living conditions, he is the King! This book has a very deep meaning about human nature and the dignity one gives up for an extra food ration or a cigarette. But, for the King, what happens when the war is over?