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King Rat

The Epic Novel of War and Survival
Narrated by: Simon Vance
Series: The Asian Saga, Book 4
Length: 15 hrs and 55 mins
Categories: Fiction, Historical
4.5 out of 5 stars (607 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The time is World War II. The place is a brutal prison camp deep in Japanese-occupied territory. Here, within the seething mass of humanity, one man, an American corporal, seeks dominance over both captives and captors alike. His weapons are human courage, unblinking understanding of human weaknesses, and total willingness to exploit every opportunity to enlarge his power and corrupt or destroy anyone who stands in his path.

This enthralling masterpiece about life as a prisoner of war will keep listeners spellbound from the first chapter to the last.

©2015 Blackstone Audio, Inc. (P)2015 Blackstone Audio

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • J.B.
  • United States
  • 08-12-16

Lord of the Flies; Lord of the Rats. One Together

“King Rat: The Epic Novel of War and Survival,” by James Clavell. Narrated by Simon Vance. The Asian Saga, Book 4. Clavell is one of the more interesting and noteworthy novelists telling tales of Asian continent happenings. His descriptions are educational in that they often explain the oriental milieu and therein mindset. He is one of the best at creating characters one can associate with and find intriguing. He does not fail us in King Rat; it is a great read (or listen).

Audible calls his compilation of works the Asian Saga, although there is no single or universal saga in Clavell's works. They tell of no one heroic and detailed account of a single epoch. Nevertheless, with few exceptions this “Saga” is well worth the read; at least for King Rat, Nobel House and Shogun. They are outstanding works of literature– while the rest are merely good. I would suggest Audible’s Book numbering is way out of kilter. King Rat is his first novel and it should be read first (although its societal teachings discern the distinctions between the British, Australians and Americans rather than in his later books which can be classified as comparisons between western and oriental values).

King Rat is a marvelous read. The setting is a Japanese prison camp for captured World War II ally combatants. From its initial opening lines there is one happening after another in how the weak, the shrewd, the moralistic and the depraved interact under the control of the Japanese to create their own camp or sub societies and conduct commerce among themselves. Clavell manages to put tension and meaning into every sub story and they all culminate into a cliff hanger circumstance by the end of the book. Clavell is a philosopher and through his characters and their personalities he reveals philosophical truths about capitalism and personal honor. He gives the reader much to think about and his stories always leave you with long lingering feelings after the read.

In this work though he takes on much more than mere political concepts. I was surprised that at even this early date (1962) Clavell defends transvestites long before our western societies matured and learned to understand and accept the sexual drives of others. There is more here though; for example he is able to study the place of husbands and wives in enduring long and unknown separations. He does this by at various points in the story, when the story focuses on a particular imprisoned character he often will follow that chapter with a chapter on what did or very well might have happened to their lovers at home while they were in war detention. At the very end of the book we actually learn the truth about many of those sojourns into the lives of the separated spouses.

The main character is the “King,” an American imprisoned soldier modeled after an Ayn Rand entrepreneur type who sets us a moral but very capitalistic system of trade in the camp. The King then meets and takes up a friendship with Peter Marlowe, a British officer with some family ties to the upper middle class, and it the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn friendship and adventures of the two that make this story great. Truly a fine and engrossing read.

That alone would give this book 5 stars but after the story ends, there is another small story that begins, when the camp is rescued by the allies when Japan surrenders. Remember Clavell, himself, was a prisoner of the war during WWII in a Japanese encampment. He gives us a stunning understanding of the mind of the liberating soldiers, their compassion and total misunderstanding of what three to five years in captivity means. Then Clavell shows us how the inmates react and most of all how the King becomes an ordinary man once the world is put back into its rightful place and we are left to consider who these men we came to know so well are and where they saved or further destroyed in being liberated? This book is very much in the character of a Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Excellent!

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Clavell is a Master

This is my second-favorite Cavell novel, behind Shogun. This story of WWII POWs in the Pacfic Theater both humanizes and brings to life the sub-human conditions that these heroes were foced to endure. Clavell himself had been a POW during this period, lending a personal level of authenticity and unique detail to the story. Highly recommended.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Kelly
  • Colorado Springs
  • 12-20-18

A clash of personalities inside a POW camp.

After finishing Clavell's Shogun earlier this month I immediately turned to Wikipedia to read more about the author. There I learned that he had been imprisoned by the Japanese during WW2, a POW in Changi Camp, and that he later wrote King Rat about a man he knew in that camp. I was fascinated by the idea of a semi-autobiographical story in this setting as I was convinced that the story would feel more authentic. And I was correct.

The story is incredible right from the beautiful first line:

Changi was set like a pearl on the eastern tip of Singapore Island, iridescent under the bowl of tropical skies. It stood on a slight rise and around it was a belt of green, and farther off the green gave way to the blue-green seas and the seas to infinity of horizon.

It feels as though the book will be a magical and lovely tribute of sorts to an equally magical and lovely place. I found the deep irony of that to be a fantastic way to introduce a novel of war.

Clavell's writing is very good. He takes you on a journey into the POW camp where you find yourself wasting away from lack of food, and willing to do almost anything to stay alive. The story is gripping and shocking. We find ourselves living among men living in the most extreme circumstances, and we see exactly how that can cause some people to act.

The two main characters of the novel are very different from one another and yet it is believable that they forge a friendship. The man called the King is a clever, smart, young American who takes advantage of everyone. He is not likable, and operates in such a way as to inspire both fear and revulsion but also some measure of admiration. The second man is a British officer named Peter Marlowe who has always thought that the upper classes of civilian and military societies were better people than the lower classes. When Marlowe comes into contact with King and finds himself needing King's skills his views begin to change. This is where the book sings, in my opinion.

The men are courageous, brave, and have the greatest survival instincts. But they also show a lack of scruples. They are flexible which allows them to adjust to one another. What can a person do to survive the worst? What will he have to change about himself? How will he adjust when the war ends? Will he take away anything positive from the experience? Will the people he love before remain in his heart and he in theirs? This book provokes thought about all of these things and now I wish I could find a biography of the author with more insight.

4.5 stars.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Zach
  • Smyrna, GA United States
  • 05-04-19

Excellent!

I loved Shogun and Tai Pan. Personally I didn’t like Noble House.

This book is great. I was worried it would be a depressing slog through misery.

This Book is touching but not in a sentimental way. It’s also captivating and tense. Read it.

The author gave us so much great stuff. I’m grateful.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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A King Listen!

For a book with lacking in major events, my attention was held and fully engaged throughout. Given the captivity setting, I can’t think of a better compliment to give the author. As an audiobook goes, this one was excellent! Many characters and dialects were distinct and easy to identify by ear.

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not for me...

It was bleak and beyond my limit of enjoyment. Maybe a little too "real" for me. I couldn't finish it. I had branched out for bookclub. Just not a fan.

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  • lerone
  • ST-CATHARINES, ontario, Canada
  • 01-03-19

Interesting book not Shogun

very good story but I was expecting the continuation of the Shogun Saga. The book is totally different and the narrative of a prison camp. Will I listen again? no Did I enjoy? yes

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Another Great Clavell Book

I don't know if I would put it in the same category as his more epic later works. It is still an outstanding novel

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Great POW Novel

King Rat makes for a rather interesting read. It delves into life in Changi prison and how people act when faced with unspeakable conditions. The characters are sympathetic and well-fleshed out.
#Cynical #Dark #Depressing #tagsgiving #sweepstakes

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Great, but wanted more

Outside my normal read, but loved it. I should, perhaps, have given it 5 stars. Only 4 because I came to care about the characters so much that I was as sad to have their story end as I was happy to have it end the way it did. Yet, I will obsess for a while over what might have happened to them next. What became of them? Did they overcome the trauma they suffered for years? Did Mac find his family? I miss them already.