I picked this up a couple of years ago when I read a review of it on the Booker Prize longlist. It was of interest because I'd spent some time in the part of the world where it was set. I loved the whole story (even all the martial art stuff), and recommended it to my RL book group, and even DH! When you've read it, I need to ask what you understood by a certain part of it. People who have read it have been split 50/50.
I'm a bit unsure quite how I feel about this book. I loved the descriptions. I know very little about that part of the world (i.e. all of Asia!) and so that was all interesting. The spirituality part makes me uneasy, though. Part of me thinks -just accept it, that's what they do "over there" you know, just accept it as local colour. Another part of me thinks "oh shut up about all that rubbish". I am not a very spiritual person, obviously....
It reminded me of Conrad, which is a good thing. I liked the ripping yarn element, and the insights into the mix of cultures. The author seemed to have a respect for the ruling elite, whether they were British, Japanese or Chinese, but was rather scathing of the thin shabby locals (Philip calls them something like that at one point, saying (rather unbelievably) that they were what he was part of. It seemed to me he was part of whatever was ruling at the time!). I found that rather unsettling.
Is there any talk of making it into a film? It was very cinematically written (clever Mr Tan!!)
I'm glad you finished it - did you read it on holiday? I'll PM you with my question, because it may be a spoiler for any nosey people likeme who read the threads before they've received the book, to see if they can guess what it is.
I really enjoyed this book, although I was also puzzled by some parts and couldn't always relate to the actions of the characters, which I guess may be a cultural thing. I went to Malaysia a few years ago so that made it more fascinating. I guess the main part of the book and the bit I couldn't always get my head around was the relationship between Philip and Endo-San. I think if I found out that someone had used our friendship to get information that would then ultimately be used against my family/country, I would be more than a little pee'd off, especially when my family members then started dying left, right and centre! Obviously they were both bound by loyalties to their family which made them able to be complicit in what went on but Philip still seemed to worship Endo, which I just didn't buy after a while.
POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT FOR NAUGHTY THREAD SNOOPERS I may or may not be anticipating your question here...!...was it just me or did anyone else ponder whether Philip was in love with Endo? At first I wondered whether the storyline was going to take us there but it never did explicitly but I found it bizarre that there was absoltely no mention of Philip being attracted to anyone, female or male, at any point. He's meant to be 18-25, for goodness sake, yet he seems to be completely sexless. At times I thought the writing was a bit suggestive (some of the sword thrusting between them and licking tears off faces - as you do!) but maybe that's just my pregnancy hormones sending me a bit bonkers!
Anyway, I really enjoyed the book but Philip left me cold.
When I went to Malaysia, I read another chunky novel about the Japanese occupation, a family saga called Rice Mother by Rani Manicka. That was very good too and very evocative of the country (I think it had more of a rural setting than this one). Would recommend it.
Yes, that was my big question. I think there was a deep love there, although it would always be unrequited. I lived in Malaysia about 10 years ago, and even then (and perhaps even now...?) homosexuality was illegal. However, SLF's husband has a different take on it from his knowledge of all things ancient. An interesting question. Interestingly, DH didn't take that from the book at all - he just didn't see it as an issue.
I have read the Rice Mother. I can't remember much about it, but I do remember that it was terribly sad and a great read.
I have recently finished this and it is quite a remarkable book
At first I thought that it was going to be a bit of a grind because it does start rather slow, however I really enjoyed the rest of it. The words used by the author were brilliant and it was another part of the world that I had not been to described beautifully.
I thought that Philip saw Endo as a Father-like figure, to say that their relationship was a difficult one is an understatement!
Thanks AP It was a good novel that will stay in my memory for a few days.