Tuesday, February 22, 2022

8. A Battle is Fought to be Won by Francis Clifford

Oof, this is a real war novel.  It felt quite realistic and was stressful and tense to read.  It takes place in Burma during the Second World War and follows a platoon of Karen soldiers led by a British ex-civilian, Captain Tony Gilling.  They are tasked with holding off the Japanese for a day along a strategic road.  It's a short read, basically taking place across two days. Aside from the main conflict with the Japanese, who are ferocious and scary, the big theme in the book is Gilling's weird insecurity around his second-in-command, Nay Dun, a super efficient, inexpressive Karen career soldier.  Under the stress of war, Gilling is convinced that Nay Dun is mocking, contemptuous of him and wants to take over. Gilling is scared and inexperienced and he makes a few blunders, but as you read on his actions belie his self-doubts.  Though he is freaking out the entire time, he does a lot of brave things, prioritizes his soldiers and the wounded and makes the right tactical decisions to delay the Japanese.  

I sympathized with Gillings to a degree.  The fear and panic seemed completely reasonable, especially after the super nasty shit the Japanese do to prisoners (to break the morale of the enemy).  However, his anxiety around his relationship with Nay Dun made him very unsympathetic.  It did seem realistic and perhaps was the subtle real sub-text of the book: the alienation of colonialism.  But if homeboy just chilled out a bit and tried to relate instead of being obsessed with his authority and being a leader, he would have seen the ironic twist that we all saw coming, that Nay Dun actually respected him.  So a frustrating read, at times harrowing, overall really well-written.  Not sure if the style is something that will motivate me to seek Clifford out, but I won't say no if another of his books falls into my lap.


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