Review: The Heart Radical by Boyd Anderson

Title: The Heart Radical

Author: Boyd Anderson

Published: Random House AU February 2014

Read a Chapter

Status: Read from February 01 to 03, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy The Reading Room/publisher}

My Thoughts:

In the late 1940’s, having successfully resisted Japanese occupation during WW2 with Britain’s clandestine assistance, groups of Malayan nationalists began to object to Britain’s administration of the country’s assets. In the eyes of the MNLA (Malayan National Liberation Army) and associated organisations, the country had simply exchanged one oppressor for another. With Malaysia’s industries essential for the repair of post war Britain, any rebellion was quickly quashed by the administrators but in 1948, sparked by the execution style murder of three European plantation owners, an ‘Emergency’ was declared outlawing any rebellion. Determined to fight for Malayan independence, the MNLA retreated into the jungle from which they planned and launched guerrilla attacks aimed to destabilise the government.

Knowledge about the The Malayan Emergency is not widely held in the present day but Boyd Anderson recreates the tumultuous period of history, blending fact with fiction, to create an interesting and poignant tale of love, conflict, culture and faith in The Heart Radical.

The three part structure unfolds mainly through the reminisces of Su-Lin Tan, and her reading of Dr Anna Thumboo’s journal.
Su-Lin was a child at the time of The Emergency, her father a well respected barrister who would eventually defended a leader of the MNLA, Toh Kei, against murder charges. Su-Lin recalls herself as a bright and curious eight year old trying to make sense of Malaysia’s upheaval.
Dr Anna Thumboo was a young woman, a widow and mother, who provided medical aid to the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) later known as the MNLA firstly during the ‘Japanese Time’ and then The Emergency. Battling recurrent illness Toh Kei spent several periods under the care of Anna and the two fell in love. Her journal is essentially a letter to her son, Paris, written shortly before her death, sharing her experience of the times and an explanation of sorts for the choices she made.

I found I was sometimes unsure about the timeline, which is complicated by memories within memories, but the perspectives of Su-Lin and Anna were compelling enough to dismiss any brief periods of disorientation. In contrast, I found the scenes in the present day intrusive, Paris Thumboo’s character seemed irrelevant and I think a direct link between Su-Lin and the manuscript could have easily been established without him. Similarly the contemporary love story that develops between the two characters is a distraction that I wasn’t interested in.

Though I rarely comment on a book’s title I have to mention how apt I found this one. Within the novel’s context it has dual meanings, as both a root character of the Chinese written language and as an explanation of the radical actions of Dr Anna Thumboo and Toh Kei.

Though some elements didn’t quite work for me, overall I found The Heart Radical to be an engaging read. Anderson’s well researched historical detail is interesting and the voices of Su-Lin and Anna are compelling.

Available to Purchase From

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. writenote1
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 16:18:18

    I’ve started this book and put it down for another time, mainly because I’m in the mood for something lighter. A good review – now I’m keen to see how my experience matches with yours.

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  2. Trackback: Around the World in 12 Books Challenge – February Round-up | Giraffe Days
  3. Trackback: Book Review - THE HEART RADICAL by Boyd Anderson

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