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King Rat
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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 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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on May 2, 2000
James Clavell is renowned for his works such as _Shogun_ and _Noble House_. This darkly autobiographical novel was, so far as I am aware, his first literary work. It remains his best.
Clavell was a prisoner of the Japanese. He was held at the infamous Changi prison on the eastern end of Singapore island as described in the novel. Like the protagonist, Peter Marlowe, Clavell came from a good family, though due to his eyesight he was in the Royal Artillery, not the Royal Air Force (a little harmless wish-fulfillment, there).
I think the novel impresses so many readers due to its stark simplicity and forthrightness, particularly in describing the moral dilemmas that confront Marlowe. With the issue of survival in the balance, does morality become relative? Marlowe concludes that the only man who could answer his questions, his father, is dead-- killed on the Murmansk run. But just as Changi is rebirth for Marlowe, perhaps it is the King-- the trader with the Japanese-- who becomes Marlowe's father and answers those questions.
There are many, many layers to this book. I have read it many times and have always walked away with something new. As with the Changi experience, itself, I sense that there is never complete resolution.
Clavell died several years ago. I hope that he found peace.
Add this work to testaments like Iris Chang's, _The Rape of Nanking_, as a remembrance of what the Japanese did to the defeated.
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on June 23, 1998
I read this novel for an oral presentation in my 10th grade honors english class. This was such a good book, in fact, that I produced a 15 minute presentation and earned a grade of an A+ from a teacher that has NEVER given an A+ in 30 years of teaching.
In his shortest Novel of the Asian series, Clavell fills every page with meaning. His contant references back to Christ build his every aspect of the setting. The last two pages of this novel are the best two pages of literature that I have ever seen in my 16 years on this earth. I have read and re-read them over 100 times (honest!). I recommend this book to all audiences, but especially to those who want a book with heavy information.
"And Adam ruled, for he was the King. Until the day his will to be King deserted him. Then he died, food for a stronger. And the strongest 'was always the King, not by strength alone, but King by cunning and luck and strength together. Among the rats" (352).
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on May 10, 2004
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. Steve McQueen made a great hero of the prison camp in the movie, but something was lost. A young man, an entepreneur, finds his element in a Japanese POW camp in Southeast Asia. He's a scrounger, a bargainer, a person who can get whatever anyone needs, wants, yearns for. He charges for it in labor, in goods, in money. All the other prisoners dispise him for what he's able to do, but use him.
This is a story of the human condition, of human weakness, human flaws and blame. Read the book, see the movie and allow yourself to feel the tragedy of a man who's doing what he does best, fills a needed function, earns the hatred and scorn of his betters, all in an environment that ends the day the Japanese surrender.
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on August 7, 2003
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.. it focuses on our life and what we have to do to live by using your brain.. it shows the inner character of human beings.. how human beings react when they have nothing and they even eat dog's meat to fulfill their hunger.. its a bit funny too.. the book shows the king's brainstorm and how he survived and how he was fit and fine ithe camp while everybody was in a miserable condition.. it doesnt matter how you achieve ur goal or how you get the things u wanted.. but what matter is that you've got it...
its a fantastic book and it reflects the miserable POW camp during the second world war
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on February 5, 1998
King Rat is Clavell's best work. The story is engrossing, with an intriguing plot and beautifully worded prose. Readers may be so amazed at this fact that they ignore the larger genius inside the work -- a study of human suffering, survival, competition, ethics, and beliefs. Fears, petty hatreds, pleasures, religious convictions, and the constraint of social rules are all subjected to a scrutiny which turns one's views upside down. The wisdom that Mr. Clavell gained out of his experience at Changi during the war is expressed perfectly in this "fictional" account of life at that prison camp; the commentary on humanity seen in all of his other books in the Asian Saga are first seen here. Quite simply, a MUST READ!!!
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on February 11, 1999
Well... I really despise reading. I hate it with a passion. There has never been a time when I decide to just "pick up a book" for a good time, I usually won't even consider that in my plans. However, a few summers ago I picked up King Rat. And I picked it up again a few weeks later. I lost it, but bought it last summer. I finished it in a weekend because I just couldn't put it down. I read it again a couple weeks ago. Every time you finish that book, something just comes over you, I swear it. It's the most amazing book I have ever, or will ever read in my entire life. Now that that's done, I can go paint my nails.
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on January 28, 2000
This book, like all of Clavell's historical fiction, pulled me in within the first five pages. The gripping story of life within a WW2 POW camp is disturbing, enlightening and dramatic all at once. The story centers around two characters and their reactions to the horror around them. As we get deeper into their lives we begin to get a picture of why life is worth living and the way that it should be lived. The ending of the book is much more telling than the end of most of Clavell's books and does a fine job of summarizing the book's overall purpose. By far, this is the best book that I have ever read by Clavell.
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on February 16, 2001
The whole time devoted to reading this book was a magic spell to me. This book must be recommended as a text book for students. Because you can see the diffrences between haves and have-nots, how they become what they are, how strong the diffrences are. In KOREA we have a similar novel "OUR DISTORTED HERO" by a famous writer. but 'KING RAT" is more vivid and has more juice. Reading this book you are going to see what your life will be like. And in the end you are going to get this result,"LIFE IS BUT A DREAM"
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