First Published in The United Kingdom in 1981.
Who Should Read this Book
- Readers who demand on the edge action from a book that they can’t put down.
- Readers that want a genuine love tale that transcends all odds. Odds of tradition, politics, and war; above all, the biggest human obstacle – fear.
- Readers who are attracted to the history of Malaysia and its British Colonial masters, and more specifically Singapore from the years of 1921 though 1948.
- Readers who are fascinated by Great Britain at the height of its colonial glory and the master of that place and the time in which it existed; the folly of colonialism and its depressing impact on the indigenous people of that land.
At the center of this fascinating, exciting and fast moving story are the Dexter and Soong Families.
It is said that “East is East and West is West, our worlds are far apart…..” Commerce is a necessary bridge between these two points, where those who are driven by the excitement of accumulating wealth, will take measured risks to make sure of their gain.
So it was with the Soongs of the East and the Dexters of the West. Both families are fabulously wealthy, even by today’s standards. The Soongs being astute global traders; the Dexters, tin miners, shippers and owners of vast rubber plantations. These commodities carried the two families through both the lean and the fat years.
The Main Characters
The initial setting for this love story is in yearlong steamy Singapore. It hones in on the friendship of two eight-year-old children, Julie Soong and John Dexter. Their friendship takes place under the watchful eye of Mr. Soong, who kept his daughter on a very short and tight reign, due to strict Chinese traditions.
The two children, in their innocence, were unaware of the eyes that guarded their play. Neither were they aware that their destiny was sealed and no tradition, no matter how strong, would alter that course. Neither would separation, war, or terror.
Life in the early colonial years of Singapore was one endless round of parties, picnics, dining, tennis, and swimming. It might be said that life for the European Colonialists was the epitome of ‘dolce vita’.
The story moves swiftly through the lives of the book’s many interesting characters, especially in the Dexter family. It does not, however, look into the Soongs’, though they are always present.
The story takes place during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany, along with the growing menace of the clandestine plans of Japan to invade Malaysia. These events are overshadowed by an arrogant British Colonial Government that did not believe that anyone would dare take on the might of His Majesty’s Military power.
The years of innocence with both Johnny and Julie soon gives way to a deep and forbidden romantic relationship. A family member and a business contact pave the way for a secret hideout in an apartment block, belonging to one of them; the use of which, fans the flames of the strong sensuous natures of the two young lovers.
When the relationship and secret activities of the young lovers is discovered by Mr. Soong, Julie is banished from home and sent to live in the United States with her estranged mother. Johnny is devastated.
The colonial government continues to run Malaysia from Singapore in its blinkered beliefs, but all the while, European women and children are being shipped out to various parts of the world for their safety. The European men remain with all the indigenous Malaysian and Chinese, awaiting the now imminent arrival of the Japanese army.
Meanwhile, Johnny’s parents moved to London to take care of business interests there, and leaves Johnny to run the family business.
Julie soon returns to Singapore from America and continues her affair with Johnny. She is taken to one of the family rubber plantations, where she moves in with Johnny’s sister. During his time, both her family and Johnny visits with her every weekend.
The Main Conflict
Johnny is classified as a key person because of the family business, so even though he wants to sign up for the military, he is not permitted to do so. However, he is surreptitiously conscripted into an undercover military unit and receives a special services training for jungle warfare.
The final outcome is a move with the unit into the Malaysian Jungle. The hardship of being an operative in the jungle against the powerful, well disciplined and incredibly cruel Japanese army leaves the reader with a tight knot in their stomach.
This all leads up to the nail-biting expedition led by Johnny and his fellow operatives, to rescue his sister and Julie, who have been kidnapped by a band of Chinese jungle outlaws, led by a diabolical member of the Soong family.
The rescue entails a graphic scene where Johnny’s sister is brought out from a hut into a jungle clearing; the Soong man and his band intend to gang rape and kill the two women.
Like any respectable love story, there is a happy ending and I’m going to leave it to you to discover.
My Final Thoughts
This book is an exceptional read for those incurable romantics, like me. For those who love action packed adventure from the safety of their armchairs. For those who like to dream of themselves in the idyllic realm of colonial kingdoms of bygone years.
Originally published here. This post has been edited and re-formatted for publishing on black CATastrophy.
About the Reviewer
Sir Peter James is a blogger and book reviewer at SirPeterJames.com.