Monday, June 21, 2010

South by Java head (published in 1957) - Author: Alistair Maclean - story of the fight against the Japanese in the Second World War (to get some papers)

Alistair MacLean is a Scottish writer who specialized in writing thrillers and crime stories. He was third son of a Scottish minister and joined the Royal Navy during the world war two. He was a senior torpedo operator at the height of his career. He was in the thick of the war theater during the world war and saw action on many fronts especially the arctic north. After retiring he started penning his novels based on the war he saw and many of them became best sellers. Maclean never looked back as a writer until his death in 1987.
Because of his war experiences, his novels are also high on the action content. The emotional and the romantic angle is not very much touched upon by Maclean. His characters are highly cynical men who are always part of the high octane action and push themselves against all odds with out any thought for their safety. The elements also play a very important in MacLean's writings. Most of the time his men are pitted against harsh unforgiving surroundings which brings out the innate nature hidden inside, be it a devil or a hero.
South By Java head, a innate Alistair Maclean novel is about the war in the pacific, more specifically about the war of Singapore. Singapore, British colony is over run by the Japanese and the assurances about its defense by the British authorities proves to be hollow. So a large scale exodus of British and other foreign nationals take place to escape from the cruel clutches of the Japanese.

The survivors try to flee aboard the Kerry Dancer which is crippled by the Japanese. A group of survivors slip into the south china Sea by boat. This disparate groups of people include, an Englishman, Farnholme, A dutch planter Van Effen, a beautiful Eurasian Girl Gudrun Drachman, a slave trader Siran and a mysterious Johnny Nicholson. Soon this small flotilla of theirs is bombarded and dogged by the Japanese who are hell bent in getting some secret papers.
There is a large dose of adventure in the story with spies, secret papers, battle plans and real war. But all this pale in presence of the crews fight for survival. As all men in a MacLean adventure, they are pitted against the unsympathetic elements. If in HMS Ulysses the cold was the overriding element, here the heroes are up against the extreme heat and humidity. They weather tropical storms, insects coupled with the ferocious and cruel Japanese.
Johnny Nicholson is a typical MacLean lead character who is cynical, cool and well versed in the technique of war fare. There is an underlying factor of masochism in all this brave men. But a surprise element for all women is the presence of Gudrun Drachman, a nurse who ultimately is the love interest of Nicholson. MacLean attempts of portraying the the romance is almost laughable.
Another problem with this novel is the under current of racism or the political correctness. The Japanese are the villains, but is it necessary to attribute inhuman cruelty to all of them. All Japanese soldiers, especially officers are presented as blood thirsty fiends and rapist. Alistair MacLean attributes the Japanese as inherently cruel and all the Englishmen as upright citizens. Well, Maclean would be forgiven by a public in the 50's but in this era such unbridled violence and masochism may be discouraged. Apart from these sore points this book gives you an adrenaline rush and a feeling of triumph.

South by Java head (published in 1957) - Author Alistair Maclean - story of the fight against the Japanese in the Second World War (to get some papers)

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