Book Review: Tai-Pan by James Clavell

Book Review: Tai-Pan by James Clavell

A friend of mine used to say, “New books are better than old ones.” After reading by Tai-Pan by James Clavell, I have to agree. It’s bold, funny, raucous…everything a novel should be. I give it five stars.

The story takes place in China during the 1700’s. We follow Dirk Straun, the English sailor. He’s become a wealthy man by trading opium with the Chinese. Simultaneously, he takes an Asian wife and starts a company called The Noble House. He lives in Hong Kong, a new city in the British Empire (we all know how that turns out, of course).

Dirk is the “Tai-Pan” – it means supreme leader in Chinese. The locals respect and fear him. He rules with an iron hand, learning how to do business in the local way: saving face, calling bluffs, and fighting when need be.

Enter Culum, the son he left behind in England. The book segues into a great father/son tale at that point. Dirk…the man who went to China to make a fortune, yet left a boy in England behind. And Culum…the son who comes looking for a father: hoping to learn from him yet full of resentment. It’s a universal conflict.

I love the story for many reasons, but perhaps most is this…

Deep inside of every man, there lives a Dirk Straun—a man that longs for a life of adventure.

So many of us lead mundane lives, trapped inside a cubicle farm in corporate America. The break room, the bathroom, the freeway…boring. Thankfully, with the help of James Clavell, we can be transported to another place and time. A world of sailors and sword fighting.

I highly recommend this novel—it belongs on the bibliophile’s bookshelf.

Insult of the Week: You’re a Duck-Fornicating Heathen!

Insult of the Week: You’re a Duck-Fornicating Heathen!

Today’s insult comes from the novel Tai-Pan, written by James Clavell. The novel’s hero, Dirk Straun, calls out to a Chinese sailor:

“You’re a duck-fornicating heathen!”

The insult involves a little research. As rumor has it, some Chinese men like to fornicate with their pet ducks. The fetish was described in the quintessential study on human sexuality—Paolo Mantegazza’s, The Sexual Relations of Mankind. Mantegazza noted that Chinese men would receive fellatio from their pet ducks, even going so far as to strangulate them before ejaculation.

Now I have no way to confirm or deny these rumors. That being said, I think that it’s an appropriate moment for a culinary offering.

Peking duck anyone?

“Let’s get it on…” *Sung in Marvin Gaye style*


In Praise of the Noble Sailor

In Praise of the Noble Sailor

I love the mystique of the sailor. I was reminded of this noble life by reading Tai-Pan, the great novel by James Clavell. Here is a choice excerpt:

A ship was charging through the east channel in full sail. Her free-lifting square sails and gallants and royals were swelling to leeward, cut into rotund patterns by the buntlines and leach lines, her taut rigging straining and singing against the quickening wind. The rake-masted Clipper was on the lee tack on a broad reach and her bow wave flew upward, her gunnel awash, and above the froth of her wake—white against the green-blue ocean—sea gulls cried their welcome.

Just beautiful.

It’s a world that’s removed from us. Today’s journey is centered on freeways, Iphones, and the drive thru line at Starbucks. Amazon, Instagram, and Snapchat. What do we know of bunt lines, lee tacks, or gunnels? And yet, it’s a world that planted the seeds of America—ocean discovery. It was the sailor, intrepid in his spirit, that forged the open ocean. It was the sailor that landed on the savage lands of America, bringing civilization to the teeming forest. It was the sailor that planted the seeds of adventure in the American spirit.

We owe so much to the ancient sailors—their courage can teach us to dream bigger, to reach higher. The sailor is a role model to the modern man.