Posted by: koolwine | November 7, 2010

Malaysia: The Gift of Rain

When the Japanese invade his homeland, a young man must decide how to best serve his country, family and friends.

Country Focus: Malaysia

The Gift of Rain
Tan Twan Eng
Weinstein Books, 2008.
432 pgs.

Acclaim: Nominated for the Man Booker Prize

To make a long story short: On the eve of World War II, sixteen-year-old trading scion Philip Hutton  becomes an aikijutsu student and friend of the Japanese Deputy-Counsel, Hayato Endo.  The biracial Hutton, who had just begun to cultivate his relationships with his British half-siblings and Chinese grandfather, now finds himself being castigated on both sides for fraternizing with the enemy.  When Japanese forces take Malaysia and Hutton realizes that he has been used as an unwitting spy, he starts off on a course of action that he hopes will save his family and friends and redeem himself.

My opinion: The Gift of Rain is both a coming of age story and a story of forgiveness, but Eng couldn’t make either one work for me.  When I wasn’t being nauseated by Hutton’s puppy-love for Endo, I was being outraged by his ability to routinely stand by while innocents were being tortured.

A note on Aikido: The Gift of Rain is the first novel I’ve come across that claims to feature the relatively unknown martial art of Aikido, a discipline I’ve been practicing for several years.  Boy, was I disappointed in Eng’s representation.  Endo actually teaches Hutton aikijutsu, the more brutal precursor to modern Aikido, which is also known the “the art of harmony”.   Hutton is definitely more action hero than peacenik; Eng (who claims to have a shodan rank in Aikido) writes in his Author’s Note that “…I should make it clear that the consequences of the use of [O Sensei’s] techniques in this story in no way reflect his philosophy.”  Why did Eng bother to write about Aikido if he was going to ignore its core beliefs?  It’s the same as if he wrote about a student of Gandhi who decides to protest with a machine gun.  Another strike against this book.

The armchair travel experience: I didn’t know the first thing about Malaysia including its location, but Eng filled me in on the basics of Malaysian history up to 1945, the melting pot of the Chinese, British, Malays and Indians who are its inhabitants, and the country’s relationships with Singapore, Britain, Japan and China.

In my book (or, what Malaysia means to me and maybe you, too)

Touching the Void
Skyscrapers draw attention to themselves, including mine.  For six years (1998-2004), Kuala Lumpur boasted the world’s tallest buildings – the Petronas Twin Towers.   Standing 1,483 feet  from base to spire, the towers are linked together by a skybridge at the 41st and 42nd floors.  Here’s a heady comment from César Pelli, chief architect of the towers:

“According to Lao Tse, the reality of a hollow object is in the void and not in the walls that define it. He was speaking, of course, of spiritual realities. These are the realities also of the Petronas Towers. The power of the void is increased and made more explicit by the pedestrian bridge that … with its supporting structure creates a portal to the sky … a door to the infinite.”

Pelli might want to ask French climber Alain “Spiderman” Robert his opinion of the void, considering that on September 1, 2009, Robert got very intimate with all that empty space when he climbed to the top of the towers barefoot and without any safety device in just over two hours.  88 stories in the air, he whipped out a Malaysian flag in celebration.

Ragin’ Malaysian
I was surprised to find out that Michelle Yeoh, who is well-known for performing her own fight scenes and most of her own stunts in action movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was forced to abandon her original dream of being a prima ballerina due to a back injury.  The Malaysian actress wields swords, kicks and punches with both athleticism and grace despite having had no formal martial arts training.  After winning the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant and representing her country at the 1983 Miss World pageant, Yeoh met Jackie Chan and began a physically demanding acting career that has included a ruptured artery in her leg, a dislocated shoulder, a cracked rib, and burns.

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Responses

  1. Holly, I am a bit surprised by your reaction to this book. Nauseated and outraged is pretty strong stuff!! While I can see your point of view, I guess I was more forgiving of a young man in a difficult situation. I agree his relationship with Endo was a bit out of the ordinary for young men. However, I also now understand more about a sensei – student relationship (or don’t understand…) that I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. While I do agree with your outrage with events that occurred in the story, I again was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as I thought he was learning that he was in over his head. His own outrage and feeling of powerlessness was finally overcome when he decided to go help his friend Kon when he was threatened.

    I guess that I think that the aikido in this book was the sense that Philip felt he had to ‘keep contact’ with his partner (in aikido terms) by which I mean the Japanese, Endo, his father, and his siblings in order to change the situation (like a take-away or kaishi waza (reversal)), or, like the last chapter said, try to protect himself and his partners by ‘taking good ukemi’, or leaving them in a good position for ukemi. He clearly had very mixed results with his efforts.

    So I guess my take is that this was a coming of age story where a young man had to make a lot of very tough decisions, and tried to follow a philosophy and view of life taught him by Endo sensei, and found, like many of us, that despite our best intentions and good will towards others, bad things happen and despite our worst intentions, good things happen. So did the teachings really help him??? I guess that I believe that in the end they did…..

    I hope you don’t mind a long, rambling post with really long sentences! ;^))

    keep reading and writing!
    btw…. Michelle Yeoh totally rocks…..

    Like


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