Weekend Reading

Recollections of books carried back and forth on the elevated train -- in a long-term, though belated, attempt to learn something about the world.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Anthony Burgess : Malayan Trilogy

Don't laugh at butterflies!

That may be the only bit of useful advice I take away from the colorful story of one Victor Crabbe - a British colonial educator who is comprehensively humiliated by the author in this tour of the Malaysia during its first year of  independence.

He's a well intentioned  imperialist who tries to help the people of the protectorate instead of extract its wealth - but he loses everything except his idealism:  his job, his mistress, his wife, his car, and eventually his life.

In each of the three episodes he is paired with a comic character:  a British NCO who wants nothing more from life than a cold bottle of beer -- a British attorney who marries a wealthy Muslim woman to bail out his failing practice - and a Malayan minor  government worker who is on a vendetta against a Tamil whom he believes got him fired.  None of them, except the alcoholic soldier ends up getting what he wants.  (the soldier wins the lottery)

There's kind of a dark, hip sense of humor about it all that reminds me Blake  Edwards.

There's also an ongoing fascination with all the languages involved in this multi-ethnic country: Maylasian,  Tamil, Urdu, Chinese,  English.

Unlike the Somerset Maugham stories of East, the reader is taken out of the English club and dumped rudely onto the hectic streets -- and some effort is made to develop non-British characters.