In this, the third part of Burgess’ trilogy, the dissolution completes itself. British colonialism is in the process of ceding power to the Americans.Victor Crabbe meets an American by the name of Temple Haynes. Haynes has crashed in the spare bedroom of an anthropologist by the name of Moneypenny. Moneypenny has spent too much time away from civilization and has essentially lost touch with reality. Crabbe asks Moneypenny about Haynes.
‘Him? He’s from some university or other. Under the auspices of some organization or other. He’s trying to give the Temiars an alphabet. He’s part of the vanguard.”
‘The British are going. Nature abhors a vacuum. His name is Temple Haynes.’
Crabbe, meanwhile, has taken a young Chinese composer who at first seems a talented enough young prodigy. But by the end, it’s clear that the extent of his brilliance is as a mimic of Western pastiche. Americans anthropologists (specializing in music) are looking ‘for the real thing’, not “some distorted image of ourselves in a mirror.” Western culture has already begun its implacable march toward hegemony. As with Robert Loo’s originally unique Malayan music, which has long since been washed away by the American jukebox in his father’s joint.
Then there’s a friend of Crabbe’s, a rather sad case, Rosemary Michael. Of mixed race heritage, she’s enamored of the West, and stuck in her fantasy of being whisked away from the East to the West. Robert Woo (the composer) briefly has a fling with Rosemary and, in one of the funnier moments of the third book, talks about love and kissing.
‘Some things the British brought with them. Along with their language.’ ..’Love,’ he said. ‘Do you know that word? Love, love. I love you. In Mandarin we say: “Wo ai ni.” But it’s not the same.’
‘I know that,’ said Syed Hassan. ‘I love you. It’s on the films. Then they kiss.’ He used the English word; the Malay word chium meant to plough the beloved’s face with one’s nose: it was not the same thing, despite the dictionaries.
Twilight. As with many areas of the world, the mess left by colonialism lingers on and on and on. Ethnic cleansing would not have been possible, were it not for the political “solutions” engineered by imperialism.
The fact is that the component races of this exquisite and impossible country just don’t get on. There was, it’s true, a sort of illusion of getting on when the British were in full control. But self-determination’s a ridiculous idea in a mixed-up place like this. There’s no nation. There’s no common culture. language, literature, religion.
That pretty well sums up the legacy of ‘trouble spots’ around the globe today. I probably did not have a complete enough understanding of the complicated social structure of this part of the world to fully appreciate all the nuances that Burgess brought into the mix. Nevertheless, the trilogy is a complex, melancholy, yet humorous look at the other side.