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King Rat

(Asian Saga: Chronological Order #4)

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  34,036 ratings  ·  943 reviews
The time is World War II. The place is a brutal prison camp deep in Japanese-occupied territory. Here, within the seething mass of humanity, one man, an American corporal, seeks dominance over both captives and captors alike. His weapons are human courage, unblinking understanding of human weaknesses, and total willingness to exploit every opportunity to enlarge his power ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published May 19th 2009 by Delta (first published 1962)
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Dr Brown A bit late my answer (3 years!) but Shogun and King Rat imho share nothing except both are in Asia. Well, both are fantastic novels! I started Tai Pan…moreA bit late my answer (3 years!) but Shogun and King Rat imho share nothing except both are in Asia. Well, both are fantastic novels! I started Tai Pan but just could not take the mentality of the characters, I stopped after a few chapters. It's all about making moola without honor... (less)
David Hill Noble House has characters that are carried over from King Rat. Reading King Rat first will help.
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Changi was set like a pearl on the eastern tip of Singapore Island, iridescent under the bowl of tropical skies. It stood on a slight rise and around it was a belt of green, and farther off the green gave way to the blue-green seas and the seas to infinity of horizon.

This beautiful opening line is like a promise of fantastic adventure, exotic trip, it evokes some delightful place, a mystery island you always dreamt about but it is anything but it. Changi was the inhuman Japanese camp for the
John Wiswell
Jul 29, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History readers, WW2 readers, literary readers, culture clash readers
The beginning of Clavell's truly epic series of culture clash novels is a curiously autobiographical book. King Rat takes us to Changi, a Japanese prison camp during World War 2, where British and American soldiers are held in dire conditions. We watch as people cling to honor, duty and any semblance of structure for their own mental health and survival. Every observation about humanity in these conditions is more interesting because Clavell himself was held in a Japanese prison camp during the ...more
I read this once decades ago, but Mom & I were talking about it one morning. When she got her hair cut later that day, she found a copy in their free book rack & loved it. My library has it in an audio edition, so I listened to it. It's a great fictionalized account of American, British, & Australians in Changi, a Japanese POW camp during WWII.

This audio edition has extra material from the original manuscript that's never been published before including an introduction written by Clavell's son.
Jan 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japanese
It's not cool to praise James Clavell - and indeed, Shogun is extremely silly. I recall a couple of Japanese people cringing when I once was foolish enough to mention it (I believe they showed the series on Japanese TV).

But this book, which is based on Clavell's own experiences as a World War II prisoner of war, is pretty damn good. There's something universal about his description of camp life. He doesn't try and draw any moral, and there are no obvious symbolic associations, but at the end I
Dec 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is the first volume in Clavell's "Asian Saga," and was written about the Japanese prison camp of Changi located in Singapore, where the author himself was held as a POW during the late stages of World War II. "The King" is a successful wheeling and dealing American. Using capitalistic initiative, he concocts many money-making schemes, the most shocking of which, involves breeding rats to sell as "rabbit" meat. He generates feelings of hatred or envy in others, but everyone wants to be close ...more
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, library
A tale of survival under brutal conditions in a prisoners of war camp,during World War II.Not too impressed with Clavell's other books,but this one is his best. ...more
Yigal Zur
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
a real good story teller. not easy to be a master.
Oct 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of gritty ambiguous food for thought stories
Shelves: dead-tree
(4.5 stars) After a stretch of the book crankies, this one finally broke the bad luck. That's probably due in no small part to the fact that the 1965 movie "King Rat," with George Segal and James Fox, is tremendously awesome and one of the best war or prison pictures I've ever seen. It's the complete flip side to the jaunty and fun "The Great Escape" (the screenplay of which, oddly enough, was penned by Clavell.)

Clavell's style here isn't exactly my cup of tea: so many run-on sentences, and I th
May 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, 3-stars
This was Clavell’s first novel, and it shows a little bit. A step or two below ‘Shogun’ and ‘Taipan’, but that’s an awfully high bar to set. Loosely based off of Clavell’s personal experiences in Changi POW camp during WWII, ‘King Rat’ is slower paced than you might expect. Nevertheless, it is entertaining with solid character development. The conclusion is a bit muted and surprisingly introspective, but I think Clavell was looking for an accurate depiction of his experiences in Changi, rather t ...more
Mr. Person
Jul 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
In King Rat, James Clavell succeeds in doing what countless other authors usually fail at: taken actual experiences from his life and distilled them into a gripping dramatic narrative.

And this praise is perhaps the most damnable understatement the book can receive -- Clavell isn't writing about "experiences," he is writing about the cauldron from which he was "reborn" -- his time in Changi, a Japanese POW camp in Malaysia during WWII.

And yet, the book is mostly comedic -- filled with the hopefu
Jen from Quebec :0)
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I thought his novel was just fantastic! (However, the entire saga of the King and the diamond was a lot of build up for a lot of nothing in the end, wasn't it?) ...more
Oct 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A brutally realistic account of soldier's survival in a Japanese WWII prison camp.

Clavell doing what he does best; making history come to life with very interesting and entertaining fiction.

Back for more...

i just found out that King Rat is in part autobiographical. Clavell was apparently a POW himself. That explains are great deal. i was very much awed that a fictional book could be so incredibly detailed and convey the day to day struggle of the characters so well. JC was writing from experienc
Mel Bossa
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was apparently written by Clavell in six weeks during a screenwriters strike in 1963. The story feels rushed and is messy at times with this sort of disconnected feel to it, but yet, I absolutely loved it. Maybe it's Clavell's urgency to tell the tale that gripped me.

This book is not as macho as I thought it would be. There's actually a lot of tolerance and genuine emotion in all of the characters. I was moved by them and I wasn't expecting that. I've read Shogun and Taipan, and thoug
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Clavell is better known for his later Shogun and other Japanese history novels, but this earlier novel about the lives of Americans and British POWs in a Japanese prisoner of war camp is a classic. The title character is an American with a true gift for survival in the underground economy of the camp, and the book raises many questions about what the most ethical road is to take in an impossible moral situation.
aPriL does feral sometimes
Nov 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
The story takes place in an enclosed small wartime POW camp with imprisoned English, Australians, and some Americans. Japanese soldiers guard the camp which is surrounded by jungle and Malay villages.

There is not much food, no medicine, incredible heat and biting insects. Soap is rare, privacy almost nonexistent. Men die every day from disease and despair. Clothes have rotted away and sarongs and rags are all that's available so rank is made known only by arm bands and a slight difference in li
Benoit Lelièvre
Aug 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish every first novels had such ambition, scope and gusto. KING RAT is about the manliest, most violently existential novel south of Hemingway. It's full of dudes lost without the structure and the social status that normal life usually provides and completely adrift, not knowing the faith of the free world during WWII. KING RAT depicts the microcosm that was formed by all this doubt and confusion and follows the faith of men who used to live by the rules and the men who decided to create the ...more
Bodosika Bodosika
Feb 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: war, singapore
A Novel about prisoners of war in Asia that was wonderfully narrated.
(UPDATE): Thought I'd read this again now that I'm living in Singapore for the next year. Still great, still one of the very few well-known books set in Singapore, (which is understandable if you've ever been here). And could still be 50-100 pages shorter - although I believe this is already Clavell's shortest work.

As good as most of them (and I'm looking at you Gai-Jin), it's almost a shame that Clavell today is known exclusively for his "Asian Saga," as he had quite a successful earlier career
Hasham Rasool
The Asian Saga: survival in a Japanese pow camp.
Ron Wroblewski
The book surprised me. I thought it was about how the Japanese persecuted their POWs on Singapore.
But the Japanese had little to do in the book. It was about how Americans, Australian and British POWs interacted, traded, . treated each other and survived imprisonment. Wonder how much of this was based on fact.

Harv Griffin
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, own
pic of my copy of King

At one time or another I've read most or all of James Clavell's novels. KING RAT is by far my favorite. I've lost count of the number of times I've read this novel. I also own the movie version of the story on DVD; and yes, I've lost count of the number of times I've watched the movie. I like the book better.

Clavell survived as a POW in WWII. The sub-story is that the Peter Marlowe character in KING RAT is a fictionalized version of James Clavell and that the Corporal King character is a fictio
David Lucero
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Saw the movie and had to read the book. Got it in a Used Bookstore where they had classic books available. Unfortunately the bookstore is gone thanks to online retailers, but at least I got my copy (an original hardback).

In the Far East during WWII an American corporal named King is determined not to 'rot' in the brutal prison camp run by the Japanese. He barters anything of value to keep alive, and he does this with the prison guards as well as British, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, and Am
At last, the final book on my 1962 reading list. I read this a long time ago before I was keeping my reading log, so sometime in the 1980s. It was my first experience with what I now call Prison Camp Lit. The dirt, the starving, the dysentery, etc. Ugh.

I remember it as a shorter book. The reprint I got from my local library contains sections left out of the original publication in 1962, giving a look at some of the wives and girlfriends of the prisoners and what they were going through while th
Ken Hammond
King Rat by James Clavell. "And in no time at all they were arguing and swearing and no one was listening and each had a very firm opinion and each opinion was right". Clavell's debut novel based loosely on his own life spent in Japanese prisoner of war camp Changi, Story centres around 2 fictional characters an American "King" who is a very successful black marketeer, and British RAF pilot Peter Marlowe whose language skills forthrightness endears him to King.
Story is basically of these two in
T.A. Uner
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: timeless-books
As an Author myself I trace my roots on why I wanted to write back to "King Rat." After "Shogun" this is probably my favorite Clavell story, and rightfully so, as this was written based on Clavell's own experiences in a POW camp in WW II.

What I take most from this book is that it directly inspired me to pursue writing, not for writing's sake, but to leave something worthwhile behind to inspire future generations.
David Highton
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in 1945 in Changi prison towards the end of the war, a story of men imprisoned on poor rations for months and years, and the growing relationship between a young British RAF officer and an American corporal, King. King is the best and cleverest black marketeer and operator in Changi. The desperation of all the camp inhabitants is all the more real when you know the author was in Changi himself for 4 years - this was his first novel, published in 1962.
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read this in the 90s as I was binging on Clavell's Asian Saga. (Just discovered I missed one.)

Also discovered this story is semi-auto-biographical as Clavell was actually a POW at the camp described. And have therefore added a "history" tag.
Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...
After finishing Clavell's Shogun earlier this month I immediately turned to Wikipedia to read more about the author. There I learned that he had been imprisoned by the Japanese during WW2, a POW in Changi Camp, and that he later wrote King Rat about a man he knew in that camp. I was fascinated by the idea of a semi-autobiographical story in this setting as I was convinced that the story would feel more authentic. And I was correct.

The story is incredible right from the beautiful first line:

Mar 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Was googling Japanese POW camps to find more info after reading this amazing story. It's not for the faint of heart but very well done and worth your time. Just very eye opening to the deplorable conditions that prisoners lived in in that era. My grandparents lived in China during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and I remember them talking of a Japanese woman surviver that lived near them and took care of their children. Very good book!!! ...more
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James Clavell, born Charles Edmund Dumaresq Clavell was a British novelist, screenwriter, director and World War II veteran and POW. Clavell is best known for his epic Asian Saga series of novels and their televised adaptations, along with such films as The Great Escape, The Fly and To Sir, with Love.


James Clavell. (2007, November 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Other books in the series

Asian Saga: Chronological Order (6 books)
  • Shōgun
  • Tai-Pan (Asian Saga, #2)
  • Gai-Jin (Asian Saga, #3)
  • Noble House (Asian Saga, #5)
  • Whirlwind (Asian Saga, #6)

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47 likes · 12 comments
“And Adam ruled, for he was the King. Until the day his will to be King deserted him. Then he died, food for a stronger. And the strongest was always the King, not by strength alone, but King by cunning and luck and strength together. Among the rats.” 33 likes
“Guard yourself and your conscience no one else will and know that a bad decision at the right time can destroy you far more surely than any bullet!” 25 likes
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