Van der Post, Laurens
|Genre||Novel (256 pp.)|
|Keywords||Family Relationships, Human Worth, Illness and the Family, Memory, Narrative as Method, Power Relations, Suffering, Survival, Trauma, War and Medicine|
This post-World War II tale is a joint reminiscence rendered by two Englishmen who have survived the war in the South Pacific, including concomitant internment in a Japanese POW camp. They meet over the Christmas holiday after a separation of five years.
The first segment has to do with Lawrence's memory of his relationship with Hara, a terror of a camp commander. The central portion of the work shifts to a document that has been saved by the narrator-author (the second of the two survivors) and was written by a mutual comrade, a South African officer who was not able to leave the prison camp alive. This is the longest and most detailed of the sections and dwells largely on the officer's relationship with a disabled brother and his assessment of how the guilt engendered by this relationship affected his entire adult life.
The third and final section is Lawrence's recall of the last few days of his service prior to his capture by the Japanese and a strange and wonderful few hours with a woman whose name he never learned. Lawrence's decision to share this very intimate secret with his host and hostess is stimulated by his view of their son sleeping with a play sword in the same room with their daughter who is cuddled with a toy--and the unavoidable reflection on the gender significance of this scene. The holiday is over and Lawrence returns to his service, leaving the narrator and his wife to review the three days they have passed together.
This novel reads more like a trilogy than a seamless work. In fact, the first segment was initially published as a free standing story, "A Bar of Shadow." The second and third (entitled "Christmas Morning" and "Christmas Night") were later melded with the original in an attempt to create a unified longer piece.
Whether it is a single work or three tales, there are glimpses of literary genius in the rendering of the painful and poignant human encounters with "the enemy," the burden of shame surrounding the memory of a brother, and the sensitive rendering of the magic of tenderness in the midst of the terror wrought by man's inhumanity to man. Although it is difficult to accept this novel as a smooth single work, it has moments of both agony and ecstasy--the limits of the human condition--that make it worthy of consideration as a medical humanities "find."
|Place Published||New York|
|Annotated by||Willms, Janice L.|
|Date of Entry||12/20/00|