Top positive review
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Utterly compelling exploration of the meaning of life
on 31 December 2015
I discovered this relatively late; as a 2007 Booker prize winner, it's one that passed me by until recently. In a nutshell, I'm blown away by narrative, plot, central characters and, more importantly, the thought provoking elements to this tale. It's one difficult to summarize.
It's set, initially, in Penang, 1939. Philip Hutton is a mixed race ( British/Chinese) son of an established and wealthy trader. He meets with a Japanese aikijitsu master, Endo San, where a master/pupil relationship develops. Hutton develops a spiritual, intellectual and physical awareness which remains with him. An inexorable bond is born between pupil and sensei. This bond challenges truth, trust, family ties and more in the second part of the book, following the Japanese invasion.
This is very much a book of two halves; the first part is thoughtful and esoteric. The second part is fast paced, dramatic and brings to fruition all the moral, ethical and familial challenges set up by Hatton's friendship with an enemy. It explores the meaning of truth, trust, betrayal, family relationships, friendship...the lust is almost endless. It's a difficult book to explain without giving away the essence of the the story. A supernatural thread which transcends time and where previous and future lives are inexorably entwined.
There are moments of unremitting brutality in the second part of the story. As a reader, I was totally compelled to engage with the reality on which much of this was based. And thereby lies the author's skill. Unpalatable events are recounted in a way that any reader must follow and from those events, lessons are drawn.
I found the first part of the book slow. Stick with it as a foundation for later challenges. Certainly one of the best and most challenging titles I read in 2015. It's one which will stay with me.