Book review: The Purple Plain, by H. E. Bates

Purple PlainPurple Plain by H. E. Bates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I cruised through author Bates’ book in very short order, captured by the lure of one of the exotic areas of the world, Burma during World War 2 and the descriptive expertise of the writer who builds a plot that draws the reader from chapter to chapter.
The author accurately depicts the down and out mental condition of Forrester, who, after recovering from wounds as a pilot, has been stationed in an isolated corner of Burma. Here, sweltering in the insuperable heat and bugs of the tropical plain, he stagnates while awaiting the arrival of an unknown man, Carrington, who will be his new navigator. He has nothing to go back to in England, his wife having been blow up during the Blitz of London, only a few short days after their wedding. His anger and hatred of life and the world, over which he has almost no control, grows into a hatred that lashes out at his fellow officer, Blore, who is due to be transferred out of the hellhole of Burma and back to India.
At the point where Forrester is about to crack up completely, the unit doctor, Harris, cajoles him into taking a ride out to a local village where he is helping a local missionary pick out hymns for Easter Sunday. In a fit of pique, Forrester decides to go along and meet the missionary and ladies in the village who are living out the war in solitude as most of their men have been conscripted to fight the Japanese who are pressing southward and rolling over the country.
The common things of ordinary village life confront Forrester during that first day out, and he meets two sisters and their mother in the village and begins to make their acquaintance in a rather stilted manner. On subsequent visits, Forrester begins to enjoy the company of Anna, the younger of the two ladies and begins to develop a close relationship. He becomes involved with village life and is present when the Japanese bomb the village, killing and wounding a number of the children who are being taken care of by the women and missionary lady.
At the point that Forrester is becoming enamored with the village and Anna, Carrington arrives and Blore receives his final orders to depart Burma. As Forrester pilots the plane towards Rangoon engine failure causes them to have to crash land in the scrub bush wilderness. Carrington, injured and unable to walk, is carried by Forrester as the three men attempt to reach human habitation and find a source of water for drinking.
The book is a page-turner, not because of any violent action and heroes fighting off attackers, but rather because of the concise description of village life, the countryside, the thoughts of the characters, and the oppressive heat and dryness that prevails throughout the story. Your mind can picture the thatched huts, hear the happy children riding on the back of the jeep through the village, taste the coolness of a lime drink in the sweltering heat, and the screams and cries of the children as the village is bombed. The reader will pick up on the author’s amazing ability to describe the looks, personalities, and foibles of each of the three main characters as they struggle to survive in the face of impossible odds in an implacable unforgiving environment.
For those who have lived on the edge at one time or another in their lives, this book will give you ample opportunity to reflect and think about humanities’ purpose and direction.

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