KING RAT by James Clavell
How do you look after “Number one?” What steps would you take, and how far would you go to survive? What kind of person would you be? Would you sacrifice your morality to survive?
These are the questions explored by James Clavell in KING RAT.
Set in the 1940s, KING RAT takes place inside of a Japanese POW camp –Changi Prison where, notoriously, only one in fifteen prisoners survived.
The story revolves around two main characters Peter Marlowe, a well-educated Englishman, and “the King,” a pragmatic and resourceful American.
Unlike most POWs in the camp, the King, a lowly corporal in the US Army, adapts and excels in this brutal environment. He concocts several different schemes mostly revolving around money and food, including his most lucrative and most shocking– breeding rats to sell as “rabbit” meat. Controlling the food source brings the King power, but it also generates mistrust and jealousy among the other prisoners, including those of higher rank.
But the King never shies away from exploiting every single human weakness. He means to dominate life and further his stature and influence over the other prisoners, regardless of the moral consequences.
The setting is powerful, but the characters still more so. Does the man make the circumstances, or do the circumstances make the man?
However you may judge the King, you cannot do otherwise but marvel at his limitless ingenuity.