THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
Dr. Heenie Lee


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American Book Publishing, May 2003
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Time Travel, Twentieth Century

It seems like love at first sight when Darrell and Tamara, students at medical school in India, first lay eyes on each other. It isnít, though. They have loved and lost each other in another life, 800 years before. In spite of the severe prejudice against marriage between Chinese and Japanese, Darrell and Tamara are determined they will not lose each other again, and Tamaraís protective brother Kiichi is determined to help them. Then triumph and tragedy strike at almost the same time.

Wandering soullessly, Darrell is seized and transported back in time to World War II Britain, where he is held by the British government as a secret weapon against Germany. He forms new loyalties, to a woman and to his fighting battalion, then finds he may have to sacrifice them all to avoid a disastrous change in history. How can Darrell, to whom love means so much, protect the freedom of mankind without losing all he holds dear for a third time? THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER has an answer, one that requires a very courageous man.

Author Heenie Lee writes from a background few Americans have ever imagined. Born in Malaysia, educated in India, an officer in the Malaysian army medical corps, Dr. Lee is offering us a look into an Eastern mind and values. I found THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER to be quite astonishing in several ways. The great love between Darrell and Tamara, to which they swore their souls through eternity, consists of ravenous making out through half a book. It isnít based on a mutual interest in medicine Ė they donít appear to have any subjects of conversation except protecting Tamaraís virginity and winning Tamaraís family over to their marriage. Darrellís interest in martial arts is shared with Tamaraís brother Kiichi, not with Tamara. Yet romance is ecstatic for them both, without anything we would consider as a foundation.

Dr. Lee shows us the Japanese family unit working as a whole in ways that sacrifice the needs of the individual whenever necessary. Eastern spiritual beliefs, such as reincarnation and an active afterlife, are taken for granted. Undeterred by either, people play painful pranks for fun and profit, and a sadist may do absolutely anything he chooses to his wife.

I found in THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER a similarity of approach with the few books I have read in translation from the Japanese. The characters are watched from the outside, actors with beauty, humor, cruelty, and so on, who do not share their feelings with the reader. There is no adrenaline surge to plant us in the middle of the action, no titillation from the sex. Yet we, as fellow humans, have enough in common overall that as I read, I thought the repetitious tragedy would probably give me nightmares.

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER is not an easy book to read, but it is not an easy book to put down, either. Darrell, one lost individual, faces the kinds of decisions that world leaders must make. For this he must, at last, know himself, and call forth his inner resources in a way that few people are forced to.

Apr 2003 Review, Original Version Published on WOR

 

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