#CBR8 Review #148

The Bridge over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle

For years, I’ve heard a lot about the film adaptation of The Bridge over the River Kwai, and I was interested in reading the book before seeing the film. I found an old paperback copy at a yard sale and decided to give it a go, I don’t know how many years ago. Thankfully, now is its time. And I have made an indent in my stack of unread books.

The novel focuses on a prisoner-of-war camp in what was formerly known as Siam during World War II. One of the prisoners is Colonel Nicholson, who is a perfectionist and insists upon doing his job to the best of his abilities. He chafes at what he sees as the incompetence and cruelty of the Japanese in the camp, and he sees an opportunity to save his men and protect them. He asks to oversee a project—building a bridge over the Kwai River in order to help ship materials and resources for the war. At the same time, an Allied group of spies catches wind of the project and determines to impede progress on the bridge-building. These two plotlines collide and create the explosive conflict at the novel’s end.

To put it mildly, I did not care for this novel. It’s chock full of stereotypes and generalizations that made it a product of its time. Even knowing that it is dated, I still did not think the demonizing of East and aggrandizing the West served the novel’s themes well. And I did not understand the end. Is it supposed to convey the effects of Stockholm Syndrome? The downfall of pride? Either way, I’ve read better World War II novels, and I don’t need to revisit this one. I am, however, interested in seeing how the movie adapts the book.

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