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on April 20, 2004
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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on December 15, 2003
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. Its was something bigger....situations...the situation,time was the biggest enemy. Just how mean people can get when the find themselves in bad situations. it is quiet true people can actually forget that they are fighting for the good side when it comes to saving their lifes.
Mr clavel who actually went through all this, has written the book with an emotion (cant tell axactly is it anger or nostalgia)
The book is a must read for every book lover
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on June 10, 2004
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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on September 7, 2014
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon May 1, 2010
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, Japanese, and Malayan. The King is an American buying and selling, constantly looking for a profit, a way to get ahead in a world where the number one priority if individual survival. Peter Marlowe, a British air force officer, attracts the interest of the King when the latter discovers that Peter speaks the local dialect and thus, could be very useful for the purpose of trading with the natives. For Peter, their relationship develops into a friendship however the King maintains the belief that there are business partners and when that partnership is no longer of benefit to both, then all interactions between the two become irrelevant. Peter attracts the ire of a superior officer, Robin Grey, who dislikes his association with the King and his connections to a higher class from England. Robin hates the King's illegal trading which is open to anyone, no matter their origin of birth yet, at the same time, resents the rigid class structure that limits his ambitions for promotion in the British armed forces. Robin nearly dies of starvation while Peter is able to save his own life and one of his friends through his association with the King. The horrid conditions of the Japanese internment camp are made a reality by the reaction of rescuing troops at the end of the book. King Rat is a multilayered book that can be read and enjoyed by all ages.
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on February 18, 2004
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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on October 14, 2003
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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on July 28, 2003
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 - is a daunting topic. After all, it is rather depressing and there is not that much of a plot. Clavell does very well at describing the inhuman situtation and how some - the king Rat - of the title do better than others in this kind of circumstances. The prison world dehumanizes most of them, Peter Marlowe, is one the exceptions holding on to his upper class principles as much as can be expected under these circumstance. There is a lot about the relationship of the different classes in Englands and the lack of that in the USA. There is sort of a happy ending when most of the principal characters hang on their lives until their liberated with the end of the war.
At the same time this looks like the downfall of the admired King Rat of the title, who when stripped of his power, has no friend left and dows nt seem to look forward to going back to freedom after the powerful postion he had enjoyed in the camp.
It is powerful book and especially the ending makes it a book hard to forget. It does not have the wide range of other Clavell novels but it makes up for this by creating the claustrophobic world that was Changi. Quite recommendable.
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on February 12, 2003
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. It's shorter, of course, but it's also not an takes place in a POW camp almost entirely.
The character of King, the American trader who lives high-on-the-hog through his wheeling and dealing, is fascinating in the feelings of hatred & envy he generates. Everyone wants to be close to him, not because they like him, but because he can afford to give away cigarettes, share an egg, pour coffee, etc. He has learned to manipulate the system totally to look out for #1.
He makes friends with unassuming British fighter pilot Peter Marlowe, who at first acts and translator and later as partner and friend to King. His character goes through lots of development, and he is really the conscious of the camp. Although not written in the first person, we really see things through his eyes.
The book is packed full of colorful characters, many sketched only briefly, yet Clavell makes us see them all, and understand them.
THere are moments of high drama, where our characters are close to being caught or captured, and the plot moves at a brisk pace.
I found the ending of the story to be just a tiny bit rushed, BUT it made some powerful statements. When the war ends, the fear that sweeps through the camp, first that the Japanese will take vengeance on the POWs and second, the fear of "what do we do now," is very convincing. It's not what I ever thought the liberation of a POW camp would be like, and it really made me stop and think. And the dynamics that occur when the first officers from "outside" show up to help liberate the camp are fascinating.
This book is an exploration of the human spirit that is dramatic, moving, occasionally funny and always unexpected. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!
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on February 26, 2002
When I started to read King Rat I was not sure what to expect. I was hoping for a cross between "Bridge on the River Kwai" and "The Great Escape." Well I was kind of right on both counts.
King Rat is an authentic novel written from Clavell's past experiences in a Japanese prison camp during the war.
In a nutshell, we have an American, called The King who, back in America was as plain as dirt and who came from humble beginnings. Well ironically, while in Prison, his rough upbringing was just the thing that made him a survivor/local hero among the other enlisted men, yet among the educated British officers he was a trouble maker who wouldn't conform to the rules of the prison. To the Rat prison was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Clavell, spent very little time on the Japanese. This novel dealt mainly with the interactions of the prisoners.
Rather that a prison/war novel I felt this was more or less a character study of class systems. King Rat illustrates to us that a down and out loser from America who couldn't get arrested before the war, can become the most important and cunning survivor during the war. Because, when it is the comes down to it, this is the rule of the jungle, dog eat dog . Just like the actual rat, we loathe them, we try to kill as many as we can, yet we can never seem to kill them all, because a rat is a survivor and can adapt to its surroundings. So in short, the Rat was King in this jungle.
Fine novel, I recommend it.
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