THE KING OF RUMAH NADAI by Terence Clarke

THE KING OF RUMAH NADAI

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Clarke's third novel (after My Father in the Night, 1991) recounts the experience of Dan Collins, an adventure-seeking State Department development officer stationed in Borneo in the 1960s. A loyal officer for several years, Collins has overlooked the boredom and irritations stemming from a turgid bureaucracy and the department's sometimes patronizing attitudes toward non-Westerners. But he protests when an agent who has ""gone native"" is fired. This costs Collins his own job but allows him for the first time to really understand the indigenous Iban tribe, with whom he goes to live. Freed from the restraints of official position, he integrates into the Iban culture, learning to fish, hunt, and cock-fight, taking part in ceremonies, and eventually becoming a member of the tribe. Unfortunately, Clarke doesn't delve deeply enough into this assimilation. Although he shows Collins's ambitions changing as he becomes part Iban, the feelings and thoughts that drive this process remain a mystery to the reader. A major identity crisis, for example, is sketchily resolved in a mere 20 pages. As a cultural critique, the novel also fails, largely because Clarke caricatures both his American and his Iban characters. The State Department officials are Eurocentric bureaucrats who call the Ibans ""goddammed savages"" and ""insist on everything being in writing, approved by higher-ups, and properly signed-off on."" In contrast, the Ibans are portrayed as noble primitives altruistic and tolerant, who teach Collins ""everything they know"" and let him be true to some of his American values, even when he contradicts some of their most cherished beliefs. A lightweight effort, often provocative and entertaining enough, that ultimately suffers from inconsistencies and holes in characterization.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1994
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Mercury House