Forgotten Book: Samsara by John Hamilton Lewis

this is the 232nd in my series of forgotten or seldom read books

samsara-john-hamilton-lewis-hardcover-cover-artSamsara by John Hamilton Lewis, Durbin House, 2002 hardcover, historical, 1940-55, Asia/Hong Kong

I’m not terribly fond of books written in little bits and snatches like two page paragraphs, and I’m not terribly fond of books in which the author makes excessive use of flashbacks. This book has both so my reaction is predictable.

The story begins – or would if the author told it from the beginning and straight through – in a Japanese prison camp near the end of World War II and continues to about 1955, during which time the Crown Colony of Hong Kong has become the primary seat of trade and business in that part of the world. Nick Ridley is interred in Changi, a brutal Japanese POW camp. The commandant is Colonel Tetsuro Matashima and a hate builds between these men ending in a fight neither wins. After the dropping of the A-bombs ends the war and Riddley has recovered in a Manila hospital, he buys some surplus C-47 airplanes and starts up an air cargo service in Hong Kong.

What follows is a little confusing, but there is a great deal of trouble as Ridley is the target of revenge by an English businessman over a business deal gone wrong, and by the still living and obsessed Matashima. There isn’t that much mystery in the genre sense here, the book jacket refers to it as “another spellbinding thriller”. I did finish it and it had it’s moments, but more than once I found myself thinking elements of the book were not dissimilar to James Clavell’s Noble House and I’d prefer to be re-reading that.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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15 Responses to Forgotten Book: Samsara by John Hamilton Lewis

  1. Sorry this didn’t work for you Richard – I don’t always mind that style as it can be quite cinematic if done well – however, when it isn’t done well …

  2. Jeff Meyerson says:

    1. Given the first paragraph, what made you read it?
    2. It did sound like NOBLE HOUSE from your description.
    3. That’s one less book I need to put on my list.

    • I was interested in the setting and character, so I put up with it. You can skip this, but Noble House is very good indeed, so you can put that on your list instead.

      • Jeff Meyerson says:

        Of course I’ve read NOBLE HOUSE, since SHOGUN was one of my all-time favorite books. I also enjoyed TAI-PAN.

        My question is, have you read the rest of that series, because I have the massive (1578 pages!) GAI-JIN and am trying to decide if I should try and read it.

        • I started with Tai-Pan, then read Shogun, Noble House and Gai-Jin. Shogun was (is) my favorite of them, and like you I think it’s one of my all-time favorite books. I liked Noble House, but not as much as Shogun, and Gai-Jin not as much as Noble House, but I liked it well enough, and I’ll still read pretty much anything by Clavell. I was thinking just last week I might re-read Tai-Pan.

          As to the length, so many books of all genres are long these days, the Clavell doesn’t seem quite as daunting as it once did.

  3. I remember reading NOBLE HOUSE and enjoying it very much. It’s been my experience that “knock-offs” of successful books are seldom as successful.

  4. tracybham says:

    It sounds interesting even though you did not like the way it was written. Noble House also sounds good, but it is very very long.

  5. prettysinister says:

    Not at all the kind of book that would interest me. I guess you should be congratulated for making through to the end. Hoping next week brings you more satisfying and thrilling books.

  6. Cap'n Bob says:

    If you’ll forgive a nit pick, the airplane you named should probably be the C-47, the military variant of the DC-3 and a tireless workhorse during WWII for the armed forces. When you see all those men parachuting over France on D-Day, the planes used were C-47’s (and maybe C-46’s, too).

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