• Wed
  • Sep 3, 2014
  • Updated: 12:53am

The sun rises on rather good joss

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 May, 1993, 12:00am

THE SECOND SUNRISE, by Geoff Pike (Random House, $175).


IF THE pre-launch publicity surrounding The Second Sunrise is to be believed, James Clavell has met his match. We are talking a sweeping Hongkong epic here,worldwide rave reviews, a guaranteed place on every Mid-Levels coffee table and the possibility of a Rafaella de Laurentiis-produced major motion picture coming soon to a screen near you.


Imagine then the terror of reading a mere 13 pages of Geoff Pike's 614-page opus only to discover those dreaded words, ''bad joss''! The words, representing all that is hackneyed in China/Hongkong sagas, slide out of the mouth of a leading character before the reader has had time to say Noble House.


Oh, no, you say. Here we go again. Sharpen those critical knives, there is some serious book trashing to be done.


But, hang on a minute. The amazing thing about The Second Sunrise is that although the usual villains of a bad Hongkong book - swaggering gweilo traders, lissom Chinese maidens and gold-toothed, hard-cussing Chinese bad guys - are duly trotted out, the reader welcomes them and joins them in an enjoyable romp through the place we have come to know and sometimes love.


But the enjoyment from The Second Sunrise is not restricted to relief that Pike has avoided the pitfalls of the genre. This is a rattling good yarn.


The plot: young Ben Deverill, the Shanghai-born but Cornish-raised son of a China-trading seaman, brawls his way through ''half-caste'' taunts during his unhappy early years in England before sailing to the Orient, driven by his father's death and determined to revive his shipping line.


Once in China, he fights to hang on to his virginity and ideals in the face of temptation. He embarks on a classic against-all-odds battle to launch the Deverill Cloud Line, starting out with a derelict lorcha on the mud flats of seedy old Macau and building his business into the pride of southern China's pirate-infested seas.


In between trading in exotica, wrestling with the moral dilemmas thrown up by the opium, battling pirates and typhoons, he falls in love with a strong-willed Chinese woman. She bears him a daughter, but he tragically loses them - his daughter is treacherously spirited away to a sacred shrine where she learns the way of the Tao.


She is sold as a slave and forced into a secondary education in the ways of lust. Her erotic adventure sees her graduate to the dubious delights of employment in a Wan Chai brothel where she is befriended by a British officer with a double-barrelled name. He takes her away from all this, but tragedy is never far away . . .


Suffice to say, our heroine's struggle is one for self-awareness and serenity in the face of the coarse realities of Hongkong's post-World War II boom, and the turmoil of her life.


We are all familiar with the book's ingredients: from the rise of China trade to the Asian mysticism charted by the likes of Eric van Lustbader. But the sum of those parts, as assembled by Pike, has a refreshing quality.


It also helps that Pike shows a deft descriptive and narrative touch. Early descriptions of the bustling Bund, of a gut-swooping ride down the Hangchow tidal surge and of life on the cut-throat streets of Macau possess a vitality and immediacy that will refresh the most jaded of old China hands.


There is also an originality of theme: this is not the story of a taipan, a compradore or even a Li Ka-shing; it is the story of a woman's battle against racial and sexual oppression. Throw in Pike's fascination with the Eurasian culture (he married intoa prominent Hongkong Eurasian family) and we are left with a novel which thankfully works on more than the one level.


The theme of self-discovery and self-help must have its roots in the author's battle against cancer about 17 years ago.


Pike, formerly regional creative director for the McCann Erickson advertising agency, cured himself through Chinese breathing exercises he learned in the region.


His roustabout life - stowaway, kangaroo-shooter, convict, soldier, greeting card designer, television backdrop artist and advertising man - has contributed in a major way to the spice of his literary output.


The Second Sunrise has enough Boys' Own ingredients to satisfy the most shallow of minds, yet Pike has the life experience to back up even the least likely of his characters' escapades.


Sex, action and a ''feel good'' theme? Hollywood is going to love this. But that doesn't mean the discerning reader won't. It's rather good joss.


IF THE pre-launch publicity surrounding The Second Sunrise is to be believed, James Clavell has met his match. We are talking a sweeping Hongkong epic here,worldwide rave reviews, a guaranteed place on every Mid-Levels coffee table and the possibility of a Rafaella de Laurentiis-produced major motion picture coming soon to a screen near you.


Share

Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

Login

SCMP.com Account

or