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Thursday, 1 December 2011

Boris Hembry's - The Malayan Spymaster (A Customer's Review)

Boris Hembry
A Customer's Review 

After this reponse to my last newsletter's small piece about this book, one customer wrote in with a spirited defence, which I've been given permission to publish, so here it is!
"Couldn't prevent myself responding re  Boris Hembry's Malayan Spymaster ... it's a book that tends to alienate people - or not. It's a highly idiosyncratic (and arguably jingoistic) view of the British planter period, from the inside. I found it fascinating - he states facts without too much embellishment, but has a knack for anecdote that entertains and transports one into a submarine or jungle patrol or rubber plantation road etc. He's also (of course) a master of understatement, so there's a bit of reading between the lines required, which could be a bit tricky / irritating for non-UK centric readers.

You can read it on all sorts of levels. It's a memoir, so it's his view of events, with all his cultural assumptions and so forth. It's all gung ho stuff - very like those boy's adventure compendiums. However when you get to it, it's also a story of a man coming to terms with himself and the decisions he's made. He's reflecting on his life from the perspective of a clear division between his glory days (pre heart attack at 43) and thereafter. And last but not least, really interesting to read his accounts of how Malaya was to a British planter (which of course will be an entirely different perspective from other social groups) and how the physical and social geography was before independence - to him.

I loved it - warts and all. So many interesting insights - he hardly saw his son grow up, but thought nothing of that, made no connections between smoking and drinking to excess, stress and poor health, the cavalier but unquestioned attitude of the large UK planting firms towards their staff ('sorry you're no good to us now, but thanks for propping up production while those bullets were flying') ... although he does take a swipe at specific people and the military in general ... on it goes."

I hope to be able to encourage more of The Penang Bookshelf's customers to write reviews, so watch out for more on this blog.


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