The Persimmon Tree opens in Indonesia in 1942 on the cusp of Japanese invasion and the evacuation of Batavia (Jakarta) by the Dutch. Seventeen-year-old Nicholas Duncan is on holiday there, in pursuit of an exotic butterfly known as the Magpie Crow. It's an uncertain, dangerous time to be in Indonesia, and Nick's options of getting out are fast dwindling. Amidst the fear and chaos he falls in love with Anna, the beautiful daughter of a Dutch acquaintance, and she nicknames him 'Mr Butterfly'.
To assist in the escape, Anna's father gifts Nick his prized yacht, Vlermuis, to sail to Australia. Singapore has just fallen, the Japanese have made it to Sumatra, and the waters are dangerous. Vlermuis is not long out of Batavia when Nick is forced ashore for repairs. He witnesses the bloody execution of shipwrecked Allied soldiers by natives, and while burying what's left of the bodies, Nick notices one wounded soldier has escaped death, and he carries him back to his yacht.
The rescued soldier is a lower-class Irish Catholic American called Kevin Judge. He has no sailing experience, but he assists Nick in navigating through some dramatic storms and the two form an unlikely and lifelong friendship.
©2007 Bryce Courtenay; (P)2007 Bolinda Publishing
This story of a young Australian man and a young Dutch-Javanese woman who fall in love just before WWI and become separated soon thereafter was interesting and brought me new information on the war in the Pacific. It was told from two perspectives - his and hers - who had quite different experiences during the war. While some aspects of the storyline stretched credibility almost to the breaking point, I found myself still wanting to know what happened next. After resolving many crises in almost unbelievable ways the author leaves the final question unanswered. When I realized the book had ended, I cried "What?!"
The narrator was excellent. He managed to make the characters live through his use of accents and tone. I always knew who was speaking. I would select this narrator again without hesitation.
This is a decent listen, but I am not sure I would buy another book by this author.
Bryce Courtenay is a gifted storyteller and Humphrey Bower is one of the best narrators on Audible, so it's hardly surprising that this is one of those books you just can't put down until it's finished. It's also historically very interesting, providing a wealth of information about the situation and events of the Pacific War that I wasn't yet aware of, and just for that it is definitely worth reading.
Even so, it does also have some annoying weaknesses. The main one is that the main character, who is also the first-person narrator of the story, simply isn't credible. I don't know if Courtenay himself ever saw active service in war, and if he did I apologize in advance. However, it doesn't seem even remotely believable that a man could go through the horrific wartime experiences described and still remain basically the same insouciant, happy-go-lucky young man he was at the beginning of the story. Even internally, they hardly seem to touch him. It doesn't ring true, and that lessens the impact of the story as a whole.
The resulting effect is of an author retelling a story that he has heard but was not involved in himself. It is as if he is seeing his characters from the outside, and knows nothing of how they really felt about what they experienced. It is still an excellent story, but if that missing depth had been there it would have been a much, much better novel.
I found it likeable, but I am confused as to what people who are giving it five stars have been reading/listening to lately. I finished the book about a week ago and I had to think really hard about how it ended before I could write a review about a book I found so mediocre I couldn't care less about the fact there is a sequel, and even forgot that the ending left the story open for one... and it certainly doesn't demand one. I love a long involved drama, but this was long on words and short on drama.. Its one of those that's good enough not to turn it off and waste a credit, but I don't really care what happens to any of the characters.
Great book. Great story. But his whole passion was for the woman he loved and when they found each other again, the book very unceremoniously ends. That being said, it was the only disappointment.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this gripping tale of one adventure after another. The narrator Humphrey Bower was superb in telling the tale. I would have given this book five stars, except for two things, 1. It was not necessary to use the "F" word so frequently and I found it distracting and bothersome to listen to, and 2. I was totally disappointed by the lackluster ending with Anna. We wait and wait to hear what will become of her and then, BOOM, it's over. It felt like the author was up against an editor's deadline and made a fast hash of the ending.
Simply the best story line and interaction with the charactors in any book published. It will make you laugh, cry, excited ( in more ways than 1), simply captures all your emotions and is impossible to put down. Reaching for the stars is the sequal.
Good story, but the absolute worst imitation of American accents ever. Very distracting and extremely annoying. He does OK with the upper class accents, but kevin and Joe are horrible parodies of working class speech, and a bit insulting. Other than the spotty narration, this book was good escapist story telling.
I wish I like this book more. I purchased both this one and the "Power of One" as they sound perfect for me. Both share many of the same strengths and weaknesses.
The story is well told and cohesive, albeit far-fetched and often over-the-top dependent on coincidence. The narrator presents himself as modest and lucky, but it does not take long to determine that he is a figment of a juvenile imagine. No 17-year-old boy is consistently the sex-object of all desirable women, an expert at everything he puts his hand to, superior to trained experts in the arts and sciences of most everything, and lucky beyond credulity.
Other reviewers have noted the complete lack of nuance and subtlety in this book. Traits and actions presented as unacceptable in an "bad" individual are passed over when exhibited by a "good" person. Characters do not develop over the course of the 7 years covered. There are very mixed signals of racial and sexual bias and discrimination, almost as if the author could not decide whether to reflect the standards of the time or to show that he is an enlightened man of the 21st century.
Finally, this is a very long book with a medium length book struggling to get out. Whole sections could be cut and not leave the book any less engaging or coherent. I generally like long books but by the end of this one (listened to over 5 days), I had my fill of Nick and his charmed life. Anna's sections are more closely written and did not to my ear have the same tiresome faux-humble presentation as the "Nick" portions.
The reader does a good job overall. He does have quite distinct voices for each of the characters and only very occasionally fails to use the right one. Some of the voices struck me as a bit too stereo-typed but that could be due as much to the writing as the reading.
Overall, I enjoyed the story, especially the first sections. It was slightly spoiled by the male protagonist's sexual exploits which had a bit of a breathless "written to appeal to the lads" overlay.
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