South by Java Head
Alistair MacLean
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South by Java Head

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  1,088 ratings  ·  36 reviews
February, 1942: Singapore lies burning and shattered, defenceless before the conquering hordes of the Japanese Army, as the last boat slips out of the harbour into the South China Sea. On board are a desperate group of people, each with a secret to guard, each willing to kill to keep that secret safe. Who or what is the dissolute Englishman, Farnholme? The elegant Dutch pl...more
Mass Market Paperback, Fawcett Crest 20577-0, 256 pages
Published June 12th 1984 by Fawcett (first published 1958)
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Its interesting to investigate MacLean's early novels to see the original formulation of all the hackneyed narrative conventions and action-cliches that he came to rely on later in his career. That's the main thing I got out of this novel.

MacLean is definitely one of the oddest of the successful thriller writers to come out of WWII. Some of his works ('Guns of Navarone') have themes latent within them which can be raised to greatness. Most of his novels are simply workmanlike, filled technically...more
An Alistair MacLean story I'd not read previously. Excellent, MacLean at his very best. From the first moment, it was a tense, thrilling adventure; a group of British men and women escaping from Singapore during WWII in the face of the Japanese invasion. Going from threat to threat, displaying understated heroism and growth, the characters are interesting and well-presented. I liked the surprises and twists and ultimately the whole story. Excellent.
I read this book because a MacLean fan of my acquaintance insisted that the literary hell I was put through by "Where Eagles Dare" was a fluke, and that his other books were better. Big mistake. This one is worse.

MacLean has an infuriating habit of writing military commanders who perpetually endanger their soldiers, their missions, and other innocents through an inexplicable refusal to kill enemy combatants. In "Where Eagles Dare," the supposedly heroic mission leader makes a ridiculous and irr...more
Interesting author, MacLean. He began his career with three WWII novels, the classics HMS Ulysses and Guns of Navarrone, along with the lesser known South By Java Head. He then switched gears and produced a series of six contemporary (at their time) novels using the sardonic, first person tough-guy style for which he is perhaps best remembered (for better or worse). From there, it was back to He then switched back to third person for his next four books, all relative classics including the excel...more
Anirudh Parthasarathy
I’ve a liking for history and I possess a particular interest in gathering information about the two world wars. When I wanted to read works of fiction on the world wars, I was immediately redirected to Alistair MacLean. I picked South by Java Head since my knowledge on the Pacific War isn't all that high (The edition I purchased was also rather inexpensive).

Coming to the plot, retired Brigadier Foster Farnholme is at Singapore and he is desperate to leave. The reason being, he has the complete...more
Thomas Ray
[SPOILER ALERT] I judge a book largely by the ending; this one ends badly--so it's not among my favorite MacLean stories. But it has one quote I quite like:

"Foster always said that education was very important, but that it didn't really matter, because intelligence was more important than that, and that even intelligence didn't count for so much, that wisdom was far more important still. He said he had no idea in the world whether you had education or intelligence or wisdom and that it couldn't...more
I looked forward to reading my first Alister MacLean novel and early in the book was not disappointed. The book was cleverly set up and introduced. It is a World War II novel that begins with an escape from a ravaged and burning Singapore by boat with an agent and an unusual cast of characters that are carrying the plans for Japan's invasion of Australia. It goes downhill from there. Surving hurricanes, bombings, being picked up by an oil tanker, then attacked by a submarine, then a fake U.S. PT...more
Stephen King
Feb 15, 2010 Stephen King rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
Well, it was a very good read in many ways. Parts were a bit too one sided, but historically it was very interesting. One, the attitudes about the Japanese were so hard and hateful at that time. Two, the typical old female roles were stronger than now. And, three, the nautical terms were very interesting and new to me. Terms like Baft, or into the bows of the boat, and many more. I meant to look them up even though I knew the jist of them, mostly. Oh, and as so many other authors do, the hero is...more
David Mills
MacClean, via a series of characters, channels thethe hysteria gilded by resigned duty that gripped the south Pacific during the high tide of the Japanese drive west.
Brilliantly written, nice prose, but at times a tad dragging. The twists and turns lack the panache of his mid-career books.
Really gripping stuff ...
Fernando Delfim
"os japoneses, quando entravam num país, nunca mais de lá saíam. Pediam aquilo a que se chamavam cooperação [...] e já iam mostrando que se não a obtivessem voluntariamente a obteriam de outra maneira - com a baioneta e a metralhadora."

Achei o livro chato e repetitivo. Melhora um pouco para o final, mas não deixa de ser medíocre. Embora não seja mau, leva a nota 1, pois não gostei.
This was a good MacLean adventure story like the others I've read, but I knocked it down from four stars to three mainly due to the last quarter or so of the story. The Japanese and German officers were burdened with awful, schmaltzy dialogue and the need to tell the hero the entirety of their past and future, like the villains in a bad cartoon. That made it seem like an old Hollywood b-movie, but otherwise I thought it was a good yarn.
John Williams
One of his earliest and best book. A gripping war story. My main complaint is that it totally demonizes the Japanese enemy. He doesn't do this to the Germans in the same way in his other WW2 stories.
Fredrick Danysh
As the Japanese army is about to enter Singapore, refuges escape the city on a ship. Running a gauntlet of Japaneses air and naval forces, the ship enters into a desperate bid to reach safety by sailing south of Java Head.
Dec 20, 2008 Peter rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Peter by: Pirated HC-Taiwan
Shelves: alistair-maclean
I simply love it so much. This is the 3rd time I am reading it, don't ask me why. The war is so - real - frighting yet these brave men on board the Kerry Dance and then on Viroma shows the never give up attitude.
Mike Grady
Thoroughly enjoyable read by Alistair MacLean. Interesting characters and plot twists; this one packs a lot into a relatively short read.

Read it in high school... A torn first edition book... The characters comes out strongly..with super hero actions.. But what is a fiction without one...
Kit Langhorne
1. Cliches
2. Bad dialogue
3. Predictable

I bought at a 'Save the Children' bookstore, so some good did come of this purchase.
Tamer Sadek
As Luke Burrage says on the SFBRP podcast: "Stuff happening does not equal plot" and I found this book to be very light on plot.
H Duncan
I've read it before, but there's nothing like a good WWII adventure story to finish up the semester's reading list...
South by Java Head is a thrilling adventure, with elements of suspense, traitors and double-agents.
WW2 adventure tale of an incredible journey a few hardy souls take to try and escape the fall of Singapore.
Dec 15, 2012 Dianne rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
If you want to feel your lips burning off in the sun - read this book. It is an excellent read.
not my favorite Alistar McLean book--a bit slower than some of his others, but still not bad
Long Williams
A good WWII adventure. MacLean knows his maritime themes well.
Man! I like Alistair MacLean! :) Another good one.
My favourite MacLean. I think I read this several times.
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Alistair Stuart MacLean (Scottish Gaelic: Alasdair MacGill-Eain), the son of a Scots Minister, was brought up in the Scottish Highlands. In 1941, at the age of eighteen, he joined the Royal Navy; two and a half years spent aboard a cruiser were to give him the background for 'HMS Ulysses', his first novel, the outstanding documentary novel on the war at sea. After the war he gained an English Hono...more
More about Alistair MacLean...
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“Foster always said that education was very important, but that it didn't really matter, because intelligence was more important than that, and that even intelligence didn't count for so much, that wisdom was far more important still. He said he had no idea in the world whether you had education or intelligence or wisdom and that it couldn't matter less, a blind man could see that you had a good heart, and the good heart was all that mattered in this world.” 2 likes
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