Above Sumatra

Overview

Above Sumatra was first published in 1964 by Baxter Publishing of Toronto as To the Edge of Morning. The great Canadian poet Earle Birney wrote of it, "Not since St. Exupery has any story-teller caught me up so powerfully into the terrible and beautiful world of flight."

Gil Kramer is a Canadian pilot on a Royal Air Force squadron in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. It is 1943, and the Japanese have focused on Burma in their drive to India and withdrawn their navy to the Pacific to face ...

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Overview

Above Sumatra was first published in 1964 by Baxter Publishing of Toronto as To the Edge of Morning. The great Canadian poet Earle Birney wrote of it, "Not since St. Exupery has any story-teller caught me up so powerfully into the terrible and beautiful world of flight."

Gil Kramer is a Canadian pilot on a Royal Air Force squadron in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. It is 1943, and the Japanese have focused on Burma in their drive to India and withdrawn their navy to the Pacific to face the Americans. When Kramer arrives in Ceylon, the island has been bypassed and the squadron, equipped with four-engined Liberator aircraft for long-range operations at sea, is virtually idle.

The story begins as Kramer prepares for a thousand-mile photo reconnaissance sortie to Sumatra. The flight is his escape from his own disintegration and guilt, because the jungle, with its months of inactivity, demoralized comrades, disease, and humid heat have reduced him to drunken passivity. After eight months he is nominated to be a flight commander, and as he wrestles with this new threat to his threadbare stability the jungle's terror is suddenly starkly manifest when bandit gangs attack the camp by night. The stress of fighting them off forces him into collapse.

While in hospital he becomes convinced that promotion will give him power to overcome the jungle. But no sooner has he decided to accept the job than it is filled by a new arrival, his boyhood friend Leowey. Frustrated, Kramer lapses into a fury when Leowey is assigned a photographic sortie that he had wanted. The jungle is no longer his enemy but his element, and he is transformed into a creature of the jungle. He air-tests the aircraftLeowey is to fly and okays it despite a defect in its controls. When Leowey is killed on takeoff, Kramer is consumed in guilty rage.

He flies the sortie in Leowey's place, and though he can distance himself from the jungle he cannot escape knowing he has killed his friend. The Liberator encounters a huge tropical storm, and Kramer gets through, but only by his own blind will to survive. The storm exhausts him, and the draining away of emotion cleanses his soul. He sees his failure was not the jungle's power over him but his own weakness.

In the bleak morning light he is left spiritually empty, needing reassurance. He ignores a message from HQ to abandon the flight, sure there is more to discover. At altitude for the run over Sumatra he realizes earth is no longer a suffocating jungle but a magnificent amphitheatre of green mountains and dramatic ravines glowing in morning mists, with a thin strip of human habitation clinging to the edge of the sea. After the dark night of his soul he realizes the humanity he shares with those below confirms his own humanity, that he almost lost.

The epiphany is so powerful that he delays leaving the target, giving time for the Japanese fighters climb to the attack.

About the Author

James Jackson dropped out of the University of British Columbia in 1941 to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. He completed a tour of operations in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He returned to UBC and went on to a Master of Fine Arts degree with the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. He returned to Canada to teach at the University of Western Ontario, followed by appointments at the Air Force College in Toronto and with the University of Toronto. During his time in Toronto, Baxter Publishing published To the Edge of Morning. His final job was as University Registrar of Carleton University in Ottawa, where he also conducted a seminar in creative writing.

He now lives on Salt Spring Island and continues to write fiction.

Of Above Sumatra, Jackson writes: "This is not in any way my own story. I served with great comrades under brilliant leadership, whereas the novel deals with breakdown and disintegration. But I had talked to men who had gone through long periods of inactivity, and saw that in war there is more than killing that can corrupt the human soul. I knew that using my own experience as background, I could write something about the effects of boredom and lack of purpose, a kind of microcosm or allegory which would in many ways be closer to the reality of war than the more common stories of violence and slaughter."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781553694915
  • Publisher: Trafford Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/4/2003
  • Pages: 189

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