This remarkable debut saga of intrigue and akido flashes back to a darkly opulent WWII-era Malaya. Phillip Hutton, 72, lives in serene Penang comfort, occasionally training students as an akido master "teacher of teachers." A visit from Michiko Murakami sends him spiraling back into his past, where he grows up the alienated half-British, half-Chinese son of a wealthy Penang trader in the years before WWII. When Hutton's father and three siblings leave him to run the family company one summer, he befriends a mysterious Japanese neighbor named Mr. Endo. Japan is on the opposing side of the coming war, but Endo paradoxically opts to train Hutton in the ways of aikido, in what both men come to see as the fulfillment of a prophecy that has haunted them for several lifetimes. When the Japanese army invades Malaya, chaos reigns, and Phillip makes a secret, very profitable deal. He cannot, however, offset the costs of his friendship with Endo. Eng's characters are as deep and troubled as the time in which the story takes place, and he draws on a rich palette to create a sprawling portrait of a lesser explored corner of the war. Hutton's first-person narration is measured, believable and enthralling. (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
This epic first novel involves the life of Philip Arminius Khoo-Hutton-half-British and half-Chinese, who lives on the Malaysian island of Penang prior to World War II. Feeling like an outcast in his aristocratic British family, he befriends an older Japanese diplomat, Endo-san, who teaches him the art of aikido. A sacred bond grows between student and teacher-"next to a parent, a teacher is the most important person in one's life." When war erupts and the Japanese invade Malaya, Philip finds his loyalty divided between his family and Endo-san. In a series of dramatic events, he discovers support from his courageous Chinese past told through his grandfather, a sustaining friendship with a fellow student of aikido name Kon, and a mysterious association with Endo-san that has been playing out for hundreds of years and can only be broken in a ritual of death. Philip's personal drama unfolds against the backdrop of fascinating glimpses into Chinese culture, British imperialism, and the Japanese occupation that eventually claims the lives of everyone around him. Strong characters and page-turning action make this a top pick for historical fiction.
David A. Berona
Though this debut novel of divided loyalties in Southeast Asia during World War II has the epic sweep of a TV mini-series, portentous dialogue and belabored themes undermine its otherwise engrossing plot. Narrating the novel, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is Philip Hutton, whom the reader first encounters as the Malaysian island of Penang is about to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of Japanese occupation. As the surviving member of one of the island's leading families, the half-Chinese, half-English Hutton is surprised to receive a visitor from Japan, Michiko Murakami, an aged woman previously unknown to him. She soon reveals that the two have a strong tie through their mutual association with Hayato Endo, a teacher of martial arts and Zen Buddhism, who had exerted a profound influence on both. Much of the rest of the novel finds Philip relating to Michiko (and the reader) how his relationship with Endo had determined his life's course. The narrative structure is a little clunky (Michiko disappears for hundreds of pages at a time, making the reader wonder whether this setup is really necessary), but Hutton's story is frequently compelling. He had become the pupil of the Japanese master as a teenager, when he was already struggling with questions of identity and allegiance. The only child of his British father's second marriage, to a Chinese woman who died when he was a boy, he felt like a foreigner with his father and stepsiblings. The influence of Endo on Philip further complicates familial relations, particularly after Japan invades Malaya during World War II. Was Philip a collaborator who betrayed his own country? Did he do what he needed to protect hisfamily? Or was he a patriot engaged in subversion against the Japanese who had come to trust him?The author makes it clear that issues of treason and patriotism-and fate and free will-defy easy resolution. Agent: Jane Gregory/Gregory and Company