TANAMERA by Noel Barber


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A huge, detailed, sometimes charmingly chock-a-block romance/melodrama in steamy Singapore and Malaya--from Grandpa Jack Dexter's 1880s empire-building to the end of World War II. The basis of the Dexter millions is Grandpa Jack's killing in rubber trees, tin shares, and shipping--a fortune which builds fabulous Tanamera, where grandson-narrator John Dexter is born in 1913. And rivaling the Dexter manse and fortunes is the house of P. P. Soong, who has a miserable white American wife and two Chinese-American children: Paul and Julie. John and Julie fall in love early on, of course--Romeo-and-Juliet-style, with secret dancing afternoons when supposedly at tennis: John is warned by his mother against an affair like this in color-minded Singapore (where both families' businesses are anchored); Julie must protect her father's ""face"" as the community's leading Chinese businessman. Meanwhile John's older sister Natasha (""Natflat"") is marrying dull, affable Tony Scott but is really mad for sexy, mysterious, married, Swiss Bertrand Bonnard (for whom she has an abortion but later secretly keeps a second child). Both affairs collapse, however: Julie is sent to San Francisco for two years; John later impregnates and marries Irene, his homosexual brother Tim's bride-to-be. Then: Japan's growing threat; Julie's return; Irene and Natflat's flight to America when war breaks out--and once again Julie and John are swept away by passion as Singapore fails before bestial Japanese bayonets. When they are finally separated by John's service as a guerrilla in the Malaysian jungle, she's pregnant too. So at war's end Irene divorces amicably (she detests Singapore and has her own lover), but the law and Chinese custom demand that John and Julie live apart for three years until the divorce is final (so that Julie will not be thought a concubine). Plenty of wartime shoot-'em-up, a serviceable central romance, oodles of exotic high-life specifics, unusually authentic backgrounds (Barber is a veteran writer on the Orient); all in all, a sturdy--if not original or especially dramatic--multi-generational, two-family saga.

Pub Date: May 5th, 1981
ISBN: 0340938323
Publisher: Macmillan