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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 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.
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on 6 April 2017
Set in Malaya, a county I know very little about, so I found it interesting to learn more. The pace of the novel is rather slow in the first section of the book, which is essentially about the start of a relationship between a half English, half Chinese teenager and an much older Japanese man. It is a fairly strange relationship, but knowing the boy/young man doesn't feel he fits in or belongs and knowing of his absent family at the time, it may be understandable that he is drawn to the older man as a father figure and mentor. Eventually the pace picks up once the invasion of Malaya by the Japanese starts. Then the relationship between the two becomes more complex and the relationship with the young man's family becomes even more strained. During the war, rather than doing what looks right to others, the young man does what he thinks will be best for others in the long run, though in effect the path he chooses may just be the easiest option. It seems the young man was being taken advantage of, during and even prior to the war, but it also seems more complex than that.
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on 21 June 2015
In the mid 1990s, Philip Hutton receives an unexpected visitor at his home in Penang. She is interested in someone he used to know and he finds himself talking for the first time about his activities during the war. His narrative starts in 1939, when he is sixteen. Although he is part of a privileged elite, he feels disconnected from his family and wider social circle, possibly because his mother (who died when Philip was seven) was Chinese. He becomes obsessed with a Japanese diplomat, who trains Philip in the art of aikido, but also in Japanese philosophy.

History tells us that this comfortable world cannot continue, and when the Japanese invade Malaya, Philip is torn between conflicting loyalties. This is a coming of age novel, but it is also very much an adventure story. It would make a great film, although it would have to be pared down a lot. For me, it was overlong with two many stereotypical characters. However, this is very much Philip's story, and his moral choices are utterly convincing, so it is him that I will remember from this compelling (but flawed) book.
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on 9 May 2017
A most wonderful read, and so beautifully written, about Malaya before and during the war. But also about family and in particular the son of an upper class family who lived in Malaya for years, but whose mother was Asian. The rest of his siblings were British, but their mother died and their father remarried. It showed how difficult it is to live in two different worlds. One of the best books I have read.
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on 23 April 2017
I read his previous book and loved that, couldn't hope for another story to top that one but this one does. I can't wait to see what else he will write.Beautiful descriptions and details of culture throughout the book. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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on 19 June 2013
I was gripped from the start with the image of Philip on the beach looking across to the island. Having visited Malaya some years ago, the desriptions of scenery and people jumped out of the page at me. This may have given me an advantage but I am sure any reader would soon become engrossed in this story and want to know the outcome.
I found the pace of this book a bit "faster" than that of "The Garden of Evening Mists" but would not hesitate to read another of Tan Twan Eng's novels.
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on 4 August 2017
Fantastic book..very exciting and beautifully written giving an insight to life in Malaya during troubled times.
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on 2 October 2013
A beautifully written story, full of human interest. For me, though, an uncomfortable but persuasive picture of the endings of colonial British rule, and the British capitulation to Japan. This is convincingly portrayed around the feelings and experiences of a privileged young English/Chinese Malaysian (which, I hasten to say, I know that the author is not!)
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on 12 May 2017
One of the best book that I've read
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on 10 April 2017
I bought this as I had read 'The Garden of Evening Mists' and wanted more. Gave a lot of insight into a very difficult time for Malaya, very well worth reading.
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