Sunday, May 24, 2015

Saigon Singer

Major North #15: “Saigon Singer” (1946) by Van Wyck Mason. Colonel Hugh North resigns his rank of colonel to remain a field agent. G-2 has received word that someone in Saigon can give them the names of British and Americans who consorted with a Japanese general, identifying our agents, resulting in their deaths. Now America and British governments want them brought to trial for treason.  His cover is a safari to shoot tigers in Indo-China, and his contact will come to him. The British sends their man, Brigadier Bruce Kilgore to assist Major North. Pamela Saunders, an American prisoner during the Japanese occupation, had the mistress of the general in order to survive, and she has the records. A gifted opera singer in Saigon, she wants money that will take her to the Stage in Paris and New York, and will reveal the secret for the right price – if North can keep her alive.
This was a good plot, but lacked action. I was mainly disappointed in the lack of detail of Indo-China in 1946. This was right after WWII, and the defeat of Germany and Japan. Indo-China was a colony of France, and everyone involved in the Saigon case is American or European. We do get this brief description: At the more important intersections diminutive gendarmes in conical lampshade hats used white batons in languid efforts to direct traffic. Nobody appeared to give them more than casual and tolerant consideration. Chinese, Annamite, Malay, Negroid, Caucasian, Sikhs, and Arabs hustled about.
I did enjoy the writing, no matter how boring it was. The author used a lot of words that kept me reaching for the dictionary, and I enjoy finding new words to play with. For instance, the following:
Definitely callopegic, eh?”
“The word, old boy, is callipygian.”
“What kind of double talk is that?” a third party wondered.
“Merely a brief dissertation upon the pulchritudinous merits of the charming nymphs of the asphalt who just passed.”
Well, my dictionary could not find callopegic or callipygian, but pulchritudinous tells us they were discussing the beauty of street hookers.
I’m not sure who the Annamites were, but supposed they are the local inhabitants – Vietnamese. The final confrontation came twenty miles from Saigon, in one of my old stomping grounds, Bien Hoa, so that tickled me, though it would be 24 years later when I arrived. The French Colonists controlled Saigon and Indo-China, and whether the author meant to or not, it didn’t paint a very good picture colonialism.  Still, the plot was good, and the story interesting, even if there wasn’t much action on the part of our hero. It was a fun read, regardless.



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Harem of His Men


The Harem of Hsi Men by Jin Ping Mei. Early Chinese literature. Almost unreadable in modern day novels, the basic premise involves a rich Chinese who has no children or other pleasures. One day his wife allows him to buy a couple girls to sing, dance and play flutes all day to entertaining him. One of the girls dies early on, but the young Chin Lien (called Gold Lotus) becomes his true entertainment. She’s smart, can read and write, and knows how to apply makeup, and it isn’t long before Master Chang desires her for other, more private, entertainment. When his wife catches on, she immediately tries to put a stop to this hanky-panky, and forces Master Chang to give the girl away in marriage. The crafty old Chang gives her to his poor tenant also residing in the master’s home, and when the old tenant is out working, Master Chang carries on his affair with the young Gold Lotus. When the wife finally has enough, she forces the tenant and Chin Lien out, and away from her husband’s clutches for good. At least the book does have a great cover, but the story is too old-fashioned to really be worth reading for modern taste.