I have recently re-read this huge novel, in an edition spread on over fourteen hundred pages and I liked it a little bit less than the first two readings. I found it entertaining but dull and less credible, more like a South American telenovella, where rarely a character is other than black or white, never shady, nor mixed. The good is very good, the bad is bad.
[source – imdb]
The action takes place in Hong Kong, and flashily evolves during a week, starting with a pair of newly rich Americans coming here to do business with Ian Dunross of Struan’s Noble House of Asia, but playing around with their fiercest sworn enemy, Gornt, of Rothwell-Gornt, a presumably descendent of Tyler Brock, Dirk Struan’s arch-rival. Dirk Struan was a Scottish pirate who took the island of Hong Kong from China in a 99 years lease and established a British Colony with its own rules. It could be confusing for whom didn’t read Tai Pan, a previous novel, but it’s not necessary, the history is repeated and largely explained again.
Noble House is the last in a group of novels baptized “The Asian Saga”, which starts with Shogun (famous novel, movie and mini-series, directed by Clavell himself), continued with Tai Pan, and King Rat. It intertwined elements from all the previous works, even with Shogun which doesn’t have any apparently connection with this one. Clavell invented an exquisitely beautiful Japanese female character related with both Toranaga and Blackthorne, the shogun and the adopted European to his court. He also represented himself in the person of Phillip Marlowe, the British writer American naturalized, former prisoner in Changi, the Japanese labor camp descript in King Rat. He also made Dunross’ brother in law a former prisoner in Changi. Nobody in the family speaks with him anymore, and it’s not explained. If it is explained, it’s lame, anyway, Clavell did this a negative one, so again, no gray tones with him either, black is black and white is cleaner than ever. Funny is that Penelope’s brother name (Penelope is Dunross’ wife), is Grey.
The connection with Tai Pan is the main character, himself the Noble House’s “Tai Pan”, meaning “the absolute master”. He spoke English (of course) French, German, mandarin, Cantonese with a few other Chinese dialects, and of course, Japanese, all fluent. He is the good guy, presented to be dangerous (but it never has been the case, only formally perhaps), he is justified, he is a reformist.
The pair of Americans which came to Hong Kong, are Linc Bartlett (Linc from Lincoln) and Casey Tcholok (Casey from KC – Kamalian Ciranoush). They are partners in a company with some million US dollars to spend, so they came to Hong Kong (which’s atmosphere smells of money, by the way) to gamble them. Casey is a pure breed Armenian (Tcholock is the American of Tcholockian) but she is blonde, she must be as rare as a white lion or the author didn’t do properly his research. If there may be blond Syrians or Kurdish because of a genetic Gothic-Greek mix up, Armenian ladies are rather curly haired brunettes.
The action takes place in 1963, the novel was published in the eighties (1981), so the author had the opportunity to give Ian Dunross massive insight (future Vietnam War, oil in the North Sea, etc..). Political and industrial espionage, stock market exchange games, gambling (a lot of gambling), onerous takeovers, natural disasters, Mafia, KGB, CIA, FBI, MI6, some Hong Kong Intelligence Service, Kuomintang, PRC, intrigue, some sex, are all present as a marathon, during just one week.
Clavell made a very catchy and readable novel, it was the most recommended in the year it was published, it is light, it would have been too heavy if better researched and it’s obviously addressed to everybody, so it may seem quite a good one, in the spirit of what it’s considered good today. If a novel sells, it must to be good, even if it’s trash, but not in this case. This one is better than Twilight, even if compared with Fifty Shades of Grey hasn’t sex at all. One may learn that the wealthy guys have all the information to keep newcomers at bay. It is not enough to be smart, one need inside information, coverage and back up from an established rich, in order to make a piece of cake for himself. Reality is even simpler than the stock exchange gambling games presented in this book. Very enjoyable to read it in High school; it remains so if you are still sleeping.
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