THE OLD CHINA HANDS by Charles G. Finney


Email this review


These tales of the 15th infantry in the late Twenties during its Tientsin, China , are all gruffly tender, manly, exotic, nostalgically roguish, filled with a rather strange blend of Kipling, Hemingway and Michener, and a very pleasing dose of barrack room humor, qualities which have all but disappeared from Army fiction. Of course, Finney's reminiscences aren't fiction at all, yet the form he uses to reconstruct his and his buddies' experiences is a narrative one, and not repertorial. Certain to charm generals and doughboys alike, and probably anyone else of the author's generation, The Old China Hands will not work quite the same magic on younger readers, especially those grown up on the works of James Jones, Mailer et al. Sent originally to guard foreign property, the Yanks run the metropolis along with British, Russian, French, Italian, German and Japanese contingents, each of whom fight over Concessions, see that the Chinese war lords stick to peace, that trade flourishes, and that everyone, including the natives, has a ball. In between there are wild drinking bouts, tussles with the Marines, sightseeing around the Great Wall and Manchuria, vignettes of mess sergeants, privates, officers, whores, expeditions, foul-ups and the like. All of it done in a fine natural style, at once both warm and funny, with good touches of New Yorker Irony, in which magazine the book's three best pieces first appeared. There is a minimum of obscenity, a maximum of evocative, accurate observation and a sharp ear for dialogue. A top-notch curiosa of a now innocent past.

Publisher: Doubleday