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KING RAT [Hardcover]

James Clavell
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 1 1983
The time is World War II. The place is a brutal prison camp deep in Japanese-occupied territory. Here, within the seething mass of humanity, one man, an American corporal, seeks dominance over both captives and captors alike. His weapons are human courage, unblinking understanding of human weaknesses, and total willingness to exploit every opportunity to enlarge his power and corrupt or destroy anyone who stands in his path.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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From Library Journal

King Rat is named after the central character in Clavell's spellbinding masterpiece about the brutality of prison camp life in Japanese-occupied, World War II Malaya. The King, an American corporal, seeks to dominate both captives and captors by his courage, profound insight into human frailties, and pragmatic American business techniques in a class-ridden society where Japanese and British actions are bound by bankrupt codes of "honor." The novel, originally published in 1962, is made more engrossing by flashbacks to the home front. Reader David Chase superbly transfers Clavell's genius as a writer to this superb audio. His skill lies in communicating the author's uproarious black humor and in his fabulous timing and phraseology. Highly recommended.
-James Dudley, Westhampton Beach, NY
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“A magnificent novel.”—Washington Post

“A dramatic, utterly engrossing novel...harsh and brutal in its revelations...James Clavell is a spellbinding storyteller, a brilliant observer, a man who understands much and forgives much.” —New York Times

“Tension wound up to the snapping point.”—Christian Science Monitor

"Breathtaking....worth every word, every ounce, every penny."—Associated Press --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The black sheep of the saga April 20 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
King Rat has many unique aspects amongst the other novels in the Asian saga:
- It was written first, with less connections to the rest of the series.
- It's the shortest of the lot.
- It's the most autobiographical, as Clavell spent time in that same prison.
- There is the least cross-cultural interaction.
Having said all of this, this WWII POW survival story is a compelling study of what people do to survive. In a sense, we all become rats, with one as king. Much of the book studies the manipulations between folks vying for power. There are the Americans trying to enforce prison standards. There are people living off of rank to hold a grasp of dignity. And then there is the King of the title, who finds a way to transcend above the problems, living off the black market and a network of informants.
We are introduced to the character that most closely resembles Clavell in this novel too. Though he reappears in Noble House, we first catch the author as the King's sidekick, a downed soldier who has to struggle with where his loyalties are.
I can not recommend the series enough. Whether you go through it chronologically as written, or in the order of time periods written about, you'll find this a deep addition to the series.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great study of the human psyche June 10 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Circa 1962 Clavell astounds the reader with his insight to the human condition. From the beginning until the end, King Rat never ceases to surprise and evoke the dark humor concurrent withthe grim reality of terrible circumstances. I remember seeing this book in countless rucks during Viet Nam, read and re-read, taped together, dog eared and in heavily stressed condition then, passed along.
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Format:Kindle Edition
I wish every first novels had such ambition, scope and gusto. KING RAT is about the manliest, most violently existential novel south of Hemingway. It's full of dudes lost without the structure and the social status that normal life usually provides and completely adrift, not knowing the faith of the free world during WWII. KING RAT depicts the microcosm that was formed by all this doubt and confusion and follows the faith of men who used to live by the rules and the men who decided to create their own.

It's a fantastic character study written in such a flat, Hemingwayesque prose that it cracked me up for being so alike sometimes. It felt almost like a parody. It's a strange feeling reading something so close in style and philosophy to ol Ernie,but KING RAT was my first Clavell and it sure won't be my last. He's too much fun not to read. What are you worth in a society that doesn't think, act and structures your life with meaningless titles and perceived value? It's the kind of fun questions James Clavell answers with KING RAT.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great adventure Feb. 18 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
An American corporal manages to swindle and manipulate his way to being the "King" of a Japanese POW camp. The one thing that sets this aside from Clavell's three other novels that I have read, aside from being semi autobiographical is the protagonist. The King has a rascal like charm to him that makes the character highly readable and fun. He is the underdog. Plotting and conniving to make a buck and sticking it to his superiors and relishing it. A man in the right place at the right time. He befriends a British Lieutenant by the name of Marlowe (A nice little nod to Joseph Conrad) whose honor and integrity is arguably the the conflict in the book. Finally, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the dutiful yet pitful antagonist Lieutenant Grey. Who, while morally and lawfully in the right, alienates himself by taking himself too seriously. These three make for some great tension and are the main drive of the story.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not an epic, despite this being his most personal story. However, Clavell fans will not be disappointed. The protagonist thinks two steps ahead of everyone else (I would hate to play chess with the author) and I would not be surprised if King's shrewdness was a precursor to Toranaga in Shogun. Any less qualified author would have made this story into glorified genre pulp. For those struggling for a visual reference, think Bridge on the River Kwai and Pappilon. A great read and highly recommended.
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3.0 out of 5 stars NOT AS COMPELLING AS IT SHOULD BE Oct. 14 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is my first James Clavell novel. In a nutshell, it is a Japanese version of Stalag 17. It is the story of American, British, and Australian POW's at Changi prison camp. A place where the real world is turned completely upside down. In addition to being prisoners, the POW's find their ranks are meaningless. Devoid of societal/military rules "the strong" survive. #1 is "the King," an American corporal who runs the prison camp from the inside.
The King effectively manipulates everyone in the camp from Colonels on down, through his payroll system. If you want money, eggs, cigarettes, medicine, you have to see the King. If you want to sell something, everyone knows you go through the King.
Suspense is derived from the near misses of getting caught by the Japanese or the pip-squeak MP, Captain Grey. Grey's sole motivation is catching the King "breaking the rules." Much of the action is seen through the eyes of Peter Marlowe, an affable English lieutenant to whom the King takes a liking due to his command of the local language and it's value to the King in trading and conversing with the guards.
The King teeters on the edge of good and evil throughout the book, never completely falling off the fence to either side. Under the circumstances, the reader tends to forgive the King's "business" dealings over this lack of compassion for the suffering around him. But when the suffering befalls Marlowe, the King reacts as a true friend and saves Marlowe's arm from amputation.
The finale is somewhat ambiguous and anticlimactic. The man who was once on top, the King, is reduced to a lowly corporal again and the many officers and outranking enlisted men are quick to see the King put back into his place when they are rescued and order is restored.
The books is adequate at best as there are no major conflicts or plot twists. But it is one of the few books telling the story of a Japanese POW camp.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent war-time story
Story was exciting, lots of plot. Excellent work creating real characters participating in believable war time actions. James Clavell is an excellent author.
Published 9 months ago by t123
5.0 out of 5 stars A multilayered masterpiece
A world within the world provides a laboratory for human behaviour utilized by James Clavell in this book to illustrate the clash of cultures, American, British, Australian,... Read more
Published on May 1 2010 by Len
5.0 out of 5 stars A prison camp and an opportunity
This novel's one of those a reader finds himself wondering whether he'd have enjoyed it as much if he'd seen the movie first. Probably it's best not to wonder. Read more
Published on May 10 2004 by Jack Purcell
5.0 out of 5 stars ANGER AND NOSTALGIA
There we go again, after Shogun this is my second book by clavell. The best thing about the book is that the author did not try to justify the war. Japs were not the villains. Read more
Published on Dec 15 2003 by hamidbaig
5.0 out of 5 stars No doubt breath-taking
An amazing story, so vivid it seems like Mr. Clavell transcribed a true story. Very real, thought-provoking. Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2003 by brento1138
5.0 out of 5 stars crazy fellow
king rat was set in changi, singapore.. it's a breath taking novel by james clavell.. its my first clavell's novel and already it has left an amazing impression for me.. Read more
Published on Aug. 7 2003 by Pratik
4.0 out of 5 stars Join the Rat Race
Writing about a POW camp during WWII, where British, American and Australian soldiers were kept for several years by the Japanese - in the infamous Changi prison near Singapore -... Read more
Published on July 28 2003 by andante
5.0 out of 5 stars UTTERLY COMPELLING
This book is lumped into the "Asian Saga" series of James Clavell, and yes, it takes place in Asia, but bears no other true resemblance to the rest of the saga. Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2003 by RMurray847
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