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King Rat Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 1986

215 customer reviews

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King Rat + Tai-Pan + Noble House (James Clavell's Asian Saga)
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

King Rat is named after the central character in Clavell's spellbinding masterpiece about the brutality of prison camp life in Japanese-occupied, World War II Malaya. The King, an American corporal, seeks to dominate both captives and captors by his courage, profound insight into human frailties, and pragmatic American business techniques in a class-ridden society where Japanese and British actions are bound by bankrupt codes of "honor." The novel, originally published in 1962, is made more engrossing by flashbacks to the home front. Reader David Chase superbly transfers Clavell's genius as a writer to this superb audio. His skill lies in communicating the author's uproarious black humor and in his fabulous timing and phraseology. Highly recommended.
-James Dudley, Westhampton Beach, NY
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

Review

“A magnificent novel.”—Washington Post

“A dramatic, utterly engrossing novel...harsh and brutal in its revelations...James Clavell is a spellbinding storyteller, a brilliant observer, a man who understands much and forgives much.” —New York Times

“Tension wound up to the snapping point.”—Christian Science Monitor

"Breathtaking....worth every word, every ounce, every penny."—Associated Press

“Tension wound up to the snapping point.”—Christian Science Monitor


“A dramatic, utterly engrossing novel...harsh and brutal in its revelations...James Clavell is a spellbinding storyteller, a brilliant observer, a man who understands much and forgives much.” –New York Times
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Dell (September 1, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440145465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440145462
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.2 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (215 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Clavell, who died in 1994, was a screenwriter, director, producer, and novelist born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Although he wrote the screenplays for a number of acclaimed films, including The Fly (1958), The Great Escape (1963), and To Sir With Love (1967), he is best known for his epic novels in his Asian Saga.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Dennis J. Buckley on May 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
James Clavell is renowned for his works such as _Shogun_ and _Noble House_. This darkly autobiographical novel was, so far as I am aware, his first literary work. It remains his best.
Clavell was a prisoner of the Japanese. He was held at the infamous Changi prison on the eastern end of Singapore island as described in the novel. Like the protagonist, Peter Marlowe, Clavell came from a good family, though due to his eyesight he was in the Royal Artillery, not the Royal Air Force (a little harmless wish-fulfillment, there).
I think the novel impresses so many readers due to its stark simplicity and forthrightness, particularly in describing the moral dilemmas that confront Marlowe. With the issue of survival in the balance, does morality become relative? Marlowe concludes that the only man who could answer his questions, his father, is dead-- killed on the Murmansk run. But just as Changi is rebirth for Marlowe, perhaps it is the King-- the trader with the Japanese-- who becomes Marlowe's father and answers those questions.
There are many, many layers to this book. I have read it many times and have always walked away with something new. As with the Changi experience, itself, I sense that there is never complete resolution.
Clavell died several years ago. I hope that he found peace.
Add this work to testaments like Iris Chang's, _The Rape of Nanking_, as a remembrance of what the Japanese did to the defeated.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By buddha@u.washington.edu on June 17, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Of all Clavell's books, this has always been my favorite. I will not deny that Clavell tends to use the same story and characters in every novel (compare shogun with tai-pan and noble house). I love all his books (even gai-jin which few seem to enjoy), but King Rat is the best. It really makes you think about human nature, and what's really important in life. All these people grew up in a certain lifestyle, and suddenly and thrown together in a POW camp, and under brutal circumstances. I have done research on POW camps at this time,and the findings are not pleasant, so it really is interesting to see how people change, and what they really value. Seeing as how Mr. Clavell spent time in Changi himself, all that we see in King Rat is an extension of that, and so you can really appreciate what he endured. It for these above reasons that I truly enjoyed this book above his other great novels, and why I have read several times over.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By therosen VINE VOICE on April 20, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
King Rat has many unique aspects amongst the other novels in the Asian saga:
- It was written first, with less connections to the rest of the series.
- It's the shortest of the lot.
- It's the most autobiographical, as Clavell spent time in that same prison.
- There is the least cross-cultural interaction.
Having said all of this, this WWII POW survival story is a compelling study of what people do to survive. In a sense, we all become rats, with one as king. Much of the book studies the manipulations between folks vying for power. There are the Americans trying to enforce prison standards. There are people living off of rank to hold a grasp of dignity. And then there is the King of the title, who finds a way to transcend above the problems, living off the black market and a network of informants.
We are introduced to the character that most closely resembles Clavell in this novel too. Though he reappears in Noble House, we first catch the author as the King's sidekick, a downed soldier who has to struggle with where his loyalties are.
I can not recommend the series enough. Whether you go through it chronologically as written, or in the order of time periods written about, you'll find this a deep addition to the series.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By NyiNya TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
I cannot believe the previous reviewer and I had the same book. King Rat stands up there with the classic Ivan Denisovich any way you read it...for the great story, or for its cynical look into men's souls. This is truly Clavell's best work, no silly Ninja antics, no inane super TaiPans or Anjin-Sans and their ridiculous MegaMistresses...just a book about real men in real hell, simply written and therefore all the more powerful.

King Rat is a young, cocky American civilian who finds himself drafted into the Army during WWII, and ends up a POW at the notorious Changi camp. But the King isn't an ordinary POW, he is the finagler par excellance. The savvy corporal trades whatever he gets and makes a profit however he can. And he holds sway over the corrupt POW officers because he deals for them on the black market, exchanging wedding rings and wrist watches for food -- with the King always getting his cut. Is the King wrong to take money or food as his price? The officers, honorable British gentleman, have been known to double deal themselves, little tricks like giving King a fake Rolex to trade -- knowing full well the guard would punish King severely, maybe kill him, if the fraud was discovered. King isn't fooled. He just cheats right back, skimming a little more off the top.

According to the history books, Changi wasn't the worst of the Japanese POW camps. That honor is held by a place known only as 4-B, a place where 300 Australian soldiers found out what hell was like on a bad day (and if the subject interests you, this relatively unknow POW camp is worth reading about). But Changi was bad enough.
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