Another great selection from my library’s Books into Movies book group. I’m not the biggest fan of war novels and I wasn’t convinced I would enjoy this one, but the writing was simple and easy to read and the juxtaposition/tension between the captured/surrendered British troops and the British commandos was enough to keep me flipping sides about the bridge throughout!
The book centers around the building of the Burma-Siam railway during World War II and specifically around the building of the bridge over the river Kwai, a fictional river in Thailand. I could not remember which modern country was Siam until this past weekend when we walked past a Thai restaurant called House of Siam! I should probably be embarrassed I couldn’t remember that, but let’s blame it on my American-ness and complete lack of knowledge around most Asiatic countries and cultures.
As usual, I’m not going to much into the plot of the novel but rather what stood out to me. Boulle sets up the novel as a contrast between East and West and this idea, which the West was (and really still is) obsessed about, permeates the entire in such a way that I’m sure I missed a large portion of it anyway! It doesn’t hurt Boulle created and wrote the story in such a way that I spent the entire book wondering if the bridge was or wasn’t going to be destroyed. No, seriously.
I had no doubts the bridge would be completed, but even leading up to the last 10 or so pages, I wasn’t sure if it would be destroyed. You’ll have to read it to find out what happened. This all comes from one character, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, who convinces his captors to follow the military regulations of the United Nations exactly and has bought in to regimented regulations so much that he is like a tank blundering forward over anything and everything, regardless of its outcome, in the name of regulation.
In contrast you have Force 316 which is trained in guerrilla/commando warfare (aka chaos) and the members of the band sent to destroy the bridge. I found this particularly interesting as Boulle wrote the book on the Vietnam war which changed warfare forever (I think?) from the tired and true here’s a line let’s fight over it, to hundreds or thousands of mini-skirmishes, thus my inclusion of new and old and chaos and order at the top of this post.
Recommendation: I would recommend it. It was a fascinating “case study” on West versus East, old versus new and structure versus chaos. I found out after I finished the novel that Boulle also wrote Planet of the Apes, both of which were nominated for Academy Awards! If I didn’t have so many other books to read I would look into Boulle’s writings and other stories, but alas it wasn’t so amazing that I want to read everything by him.
Opening Line: “The insuperable gap between East and West that exists in some eyes is perhaps nothing more than an optical illusion.”
Closing Line: “‘The only proper action,’ Colonel Green agreed.” (Whited out.)