Certainty, Madeleine Thein, 2006
Philosophy, (Bertrand) Russel had said, was a means to teach one how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation.
An excellant first novel is a complex interwoven world ranging epoch of families over several generations compacted into a neat 300 pages. Particularly well done is the avoidance of referring to individual character’s race or group. Only by inference do we assume that central characters are Chinese, Malay, Canadian, or Dutch.
Included are Sandakan, British North Borneo, a small rubber plantation sea port, capital of Sabah, and site of a notorious Japanese prisoner of war camp, Hong Kong, site of another Japanese prisoner of war camp where a British soldier kept an encrypted diary, Jakarta, Melbourne, Vancouver, the Netherlands.
Characters are a Sandakan rubber plantation manager, his wife and son and the son’s best friend, a girl who becomes a talented fisherman and later becomes a photography shop assistant in Jakarta. The son goes to university in Melbourne where he meets the daughter of a Kowloon restauranter. They marry and move to Vancouver. Their daughter becomes a radio documentary maker and marries a Canadian pulminary disease specialist. The novel explores the costs of surviving the war and Japanese occupation, the end of colonial rule, both British and Dutch, in the region, the resulting family secrets, and the efforts of the younger generation to find those secrets. Also an exploration of death and loss.