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King Rat

(Asian Saga: Chronological Order #4)

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  30,661 ratings  ·  778 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)
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4.13  · 
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 ·  30,661 ratings  ·  778 reviews

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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
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
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 Cla
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
May 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-stars, fiction
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
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
(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
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
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.

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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
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?)
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.
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
Hasham Rasool
The Asian Saga: survival in a Japanese pow camp.
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
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.
Kelly ...
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:

Harv Griffin
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, reviewed
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
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.
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!!!
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.
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
Mar 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Martyn Halm
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My interest in Japanese culture was just blossoming when I came across this powerhouse of a book, which I have re-read since at least three times. The story, about a friendship between an American soldier and a British officer in a Japanese POW camp, and the way the two men influence one another, is interesting enough on its own, but the book also gives insight in how the camp strips the occupants of their civilization and shows the lengths people go through to survive. Recommended not only to t ...more
Radu Stanculescu
The start was quite slow, and the side stories, while pertinent, felt a bit out of place. The second half of the book was exhilarating though. The characters became more likable and the pace picked up a lot. After plodding through Gai-Jin, I really enjoyed this one. The fact that it is just one third the length of Gai-Jin helped too.
Nov 12, 2018 added it
Shelves: fiction
This is a book I read years ago and would like to get in my hands again.A tale of survival under brutal conditions in a prisoners of war camp.
Mishu Panoiu
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A powerful story about survival and the compromises one makes in order to live another day - especially in extraordinary circumstances such as a harsh prison in the WW2 period. You cannot help but wonder what you would have done placed in their shoes - what cost would you be willing to pay?
Margarit (Mark) Ralev
Dec 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great one.
Strongly recommend for my man-friends.
I'll definitely read more from Clavell in the future.
Oct 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Empire of the Sun
This could almost be billed as the serious, Asian version of the movie 'The Great Escape', and so I was not entirely surprised to discover that James Clavell wrote the screenplay for that film, and the book has a cinematic quality to it. POWs in barracks and digging trenches or tunnels are a feature of both. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the film or book 'Empire of the Sun', the TV series 'Tenko' or even the film 'Bridge Over the River Kwai'. This is full of incident, great charac ...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 (Asian Saga, #1)
  • Tai-Pan (Asian Saga, #2)
  • Gai-Jin (Asian Saga, #3)
  • Noble House (Asian Saga, #5)
  • Whirlwind (Asian Saga, #6)
“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.” 31 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
More quotes…