Book Reviews
Novel
Title The Pirates of Tarutao
Author Pongpol Adireksarn จFrom the original English version by Paul Adirex, translated by Wipada Kittikowit
5th publication, Bangkok, Prapansarn Publishing, 2000, 198 baht.

Book information

The Pirates of Tarutao

 


Brief story
         In Malay, Tarutao means "old and mysterious". It is an island in The Andaman Sea, 19 kilometers from the west coast of southern Thailand and 48 kilometers from Malaya. Its area of 151.13 squared kilometers were covered by mountains and dense jungle where malaria could well thrive. The sea around the island was also infested with sharks. All these conditions made the island a suitable place to detain prisoners. In 1938, after the construction of the prison was completed, two thousands prisoners were confined in Tarutao prison. Then, the director of the Tarutao prison, or officially called Tarutao Vocational Trainning Settlement (TVTS), was Khun Apipat. On September 18, 1939, a new group of seventy political prisoners was transferred from Bangkok prison to Tarutao. These unique prisoners were isolated from other ordinary inmates.
          Mee was a fisherman living on Tarutao. His older daughter was married to the TVTS guards. Mee lived with his younger son while his youngest daughter at at Taloh Udang Bay. He risked his life, for the reward of five thousand baht, by helping the political prisoners to escape from Tarutao. The five political prisoners were Praya Sarapai, Colonel Praya Surapan, Louis Kiriwat, Chalam Liampetrat, and Khun Akani. Mee lead them to land on a beach of Langkawi on October 17, 1939. Then, it was during the WWII and Langkawi was then the British colony.
          Collin Cunningham, an American who fell under the spell of the novel LORD JIM. Without his father's consent, Collin joined the army and was then posted in the army base in the Philippines. Having seen an opportunity to make a fortune from procurement and distribution of military arms, he then left the army and went into business until he became very rich. Later on, he was persuaded by Tim Curtis to move to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. He then met the Rajah of Alor Setar, Kedah state, who invited him to visit the island of Langawi. Cunningham then transferred all of his savings to a bank in Singapore and drew out the equivalent sum in six gold bars, which were carried in his special belt all the times. He also changed his dress to a Malay style. He arrived Langkawi or Patusan, as mentioned in LORD JIM, on Dember 5, 1941.
          Sergeant Hawkins, an officer of the British Army Brigade in Kota Baharu, was jailed because he had an affair with a Chinese businessman's wife and killed her husband. He spoke to, Corporal Peter Grant, his cellmate, who was caught for stealing arms and ammunition, resisting arrest, and wounded military polices. Then, the country was at war. The Japanese troops invaded Malaya, which was the British colony. Hawkins and Grant made plan to escape and aimed to hide themselves in Thailand territory. Brigadier Fitzpatrick commanded Lieutenant Kevin Knox and his men, Brown and Rachan, to chase after the escaped convicts, then capture and bring them back for punishment. Hawkins and Grant hired a boat to Langkawi but changed the destination to Tarutao of Thailand, hoping to avoid the hunt from the British officials. When they got ashore at Taloh Udang Bay on Tarutao, they met Luang Mahasit and the prisoner guards. They then lied that they were British soldiers ordered to scout the island and got lost. Meanwhile, Know and his men arrived Langkawi and met Cunningham. One night, the Japanese invaded both Thailand and Malaya. On the following day, Cunningham, Knox, Brown, and Rachan returned to Kuala Kedah. Unfortunately, they were captured by the Japanese troops. Cunningham's gold bars were also taken. Later on, all of them were sent to Tarutao as prisoners of war. Having arrived Tarutao, Know and his men found Hawkins and Grant there. Knox asked his men and Cunningham not to disclose their mission hunting the two escaped convicts. Since they were not Thai, Khun Apipat allowed them to build their own huts.
          Luang Mahasit, who spoke English fluently, was an interpreter for Khun Apipat, the prison director, to explain rules of the Tarutao prison to the new prisoners. Knox also later knew that Luang Mahasit was writing the English-Thai dictionary. Knox then asked to learn Thai language from Luang Mahasit and learn Thai boxing from the political prisoners. Cunningham also spent his time learning cultivation with Prince Sittiporn. Not long later, due to shortages of supplies, the political prisoners were transferred to Ko Tao.
          After the political prisoners left, the situation became worse. To solve problems of food shortage, Khun Apipat lent Knox a rifle to hunt wild animals as their food. Many prisoners died because of epidemics. Khun Apipat returned to Bangkok himself asking for help but his request was totally rejected. Struggling to solve the problems, he then let his guards and prisoners sailing their small boat to ask for food and medicine from cargo ships. The SEA DRAGON not only refused to give them food but also rammed on the small boat and wrecked it down. As revenge, the SEA DRANGON was later robbed and detained at Tarutao. After that, the LUCKY LADY was also pirated. Nit, a guard who was previously a prisoner, took gold bars as well as goods then burned down the ship. This bloody incident was witnessed by Knox, Cunningham, and Rachan who hid themselves in the dense forest of a hill overlooking the small bay where the violence took place. Cunningham had no objection to what happened but Knox and Rachan were deeply disappointed. Cunningham then cooperated with Khun Apipat then recruited Hawkins and Grant to watch out Knox and his men.
          One day, Knox and his men saved Malatee from being raped by Hawkins and Grant. He also helped her unconscious father who Knox later found that he was Mee, the man who helped the five political prisoners escaped to Langkawi. The old man and his daughter sailed a small boat to Tarutao to visit hos older daughter who married the guard. Knox volunteered to inform the couple. Having met Knox, Malatee's sister lead him to the Pine beach on the west of Tarutao to meet Malatee.
          Charn and Suchart reported Colonel Banchongak, commandant of Thai Provincial Police Zone, about their lost goods transported on missing merchant vessels. They also informed the commandant about the pirates of Tarutao. They later found out that their goods were with a merchant named Tamrong. Further investigation acknowledged them that the goods were bought from Khun Apipat's son. A few days later, Tamrong was murdered. On the island, Hawkins and Grant ask for Khun Apipat's permission to sail the SEA DRAGON to explore the Ardang island. They hope to mistake the police to understand that Adang was the pirates' base and, hence, distract them away from Tarutao. Hawkins also planned to take the loots for himself. Khun Apipat also went out to explore Tarutao trying to find a place to hide the loots. Coincidently, their activities were seen by Knox and Malatee. Having moved all the loots, Khun Apipat had to welcome Colonel Banchongsak who visited Tarutao for investigation. Although he found nothing, with instinct suspicion, he later managed to send his spies under covered as guards and prisoners sent to Tarutao.
          One day, a merchant ship intended to take shelter at Taloh Wow Bay. Knox and his men shouted from the cliff, where they were hiding, to warn the ship's Captain to escape the pirate. Nit, who was leading his team to pirate the ship, tried to capture the merchant ship but he could not. He then reported to Khun Apipat. As such, Khun Apipat called for Hawkins and Grant to kill Knox and his men. Fortunately, Yai, a guard's wife and Malatee's sister, warned Knox. Knox and his men then managed to escape the attack. They hid themselves in the forest and waited for Malatee to take them to Langawi. Hawkins and Grant took their men to chase Knox. However, Malatee successfully helped Knox to escape but they lost Brown, who covered Knox from Hawkins' shot. The escape day was August 15, 1945, which was the same day that the Japanese decided to surrender. The British Army promoted Knox to captain. He later received a special mission to capture Hawkins and Grant as well as to guard the merchant ships as requested by the Association of Chinese Merchant. When Nit and his team tried to pirate the merchant ship, Nit was captured by Rachan and British soldiers assigned by Knox to guard that ship. Nit's men were gunned down and their dead bodies were put on their sailboat that was set to head toward Tarutao so that the other pirates would know the message. Captured Nit was later executed by being tied to the anchor and thrown into the sea, just the same way he previously did to many of his victims on board the pirated merchant ships.
          Lek, Malatee's brother, reported to Knox that Hawkins and Grant were living at their base on Adang. Hawkins abducted Teca's bride during their wedding ceremony. Grant also took Teca's younger sister and they both girls were held captive on Adang. Sanoh told Khun Apipat that there would be a convoy of five merchant ships sailing pass Tarutao. Khun Apipat and Cunningham then planned to pirate these ships with helps from Hawkins and Grant, using the SEA DRAGON. The raid was strongly resisted by Knox and his soldiers who were escorting the convoy. Knox sank three pirate sailboats. Khin Apipat and Cunningham observed the whole incident from the cliff. Cunningham, previously planned to escape with the treasure, had moved the loots and hid them in the cave on Langkawi. The British and Thai government agreed to cooperate to suppress the pirates. Knox and his men, while waiting for order to attack, were permitted to keep a close watch on Hawkins and Grant. Knox's team traveled to Lipe on three sailboats. In the first sailboat were Knox, Malatee, Lek, and Prem while Rachan, Visnu, Chai, and a Gurkha corporal were on the second sailboat. The third sailboat had four Gurkha soldiers in it. Knox planned to burn down the SEA DRAGON and attack Hawkins on Adang as soon as the order reached him.
          March 11, 1946, Knox received the order to start the planned operation. His team managed to burn down the SEA DRAGON and killed Hawkins, Grant, and other pirates on Adang. Two Sea Gypsies girls were safely rescued and returned to their families. Knox led his soldiers to intercept Cunningham who was going to escape with the treasure. At the same time, Brigadier Perowne and his troops landed on Taloh Wow Bay to arrest Khun Apipat and other pirates. Cunningham was arrested by Knox and was held on the ship but he managed to hold Malatee as his hostage and pushed her down the riverbank full of crocodiles. Knox rescued Malatee while Cunningham successfully escaped to the sea. However, the bullet holes at the hull slowly let water into the boat and, finally, the boat sank.
          Knox got married with Malatee. He was promoted to major before he resigned from the Army and moved to Langkawi, doing his rubber plantation. Thirty years later, Knox and family returned to Tarutao as tourists when Tarutao became Natioanl Park and was opened for public. Charles, Knox's oldest son, learned that his parent had a lot of memories about Tarutao. They also knew that Khun Apipat was sentenced a fifteen-year imprisonment. Charles explored the areas and found a shaft, an entrance to a cave. He then asked his father to further investigate. Both of them found a skeleton and a dagger. They also found the message carved on the cave's wall saying "Boat capsized, Legs broken, No food, No water, Weak, Dying, Damn You Knox!" Knox was stunned as he immediately knew that the skeleton was Cunningham's.
         Review: The Pirates of Tarutao
          "The Pirates of Tarutao" by Paul Adirex is an adventurous novel written in English by Pongpol Adireksarn, then translated into Thai by Wipada Kittikowit. Its fifth edition was released in 2000 at the price of 198 baht. Its first and second edition was released in 1997. It was published twice in the year 2000, the fourth and fifth editions. This detail is raised because it represents popularity of this novel as well as its quality.
          "The Pirates of Tarutao" is the 23-episodes novel. Its distinguished character is that the novel was written in English, particularly for foreigners. To do this, the author must be able to fluently communicate in English, which is rare among Thai writers. The English-written novels are not only faced with high competitive in the international level but also needed to well represent Thailand in terms of its geography and people's lifestyles. In short, Pongpol Adireksarn has made Thailand better known by his novel.
          There are two conspicuous character of "The Pirates of Tarutao" that make the novel irresistible to read;
          Firstly, the plot of this novel was based on true historical evidences. Therefore, the author's knowledge of Thailand and situations during the World War II has also educated readers on modern history, real situations of the war, and corresponding international relationships between Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan.
         Secondly, most of the characters mentioned in the novels were historical characters that were key political prisoners detained at Tarutao. The prison on Tarutao has not only been in the interest of both Thais but also foreigners already interested in Thailand. These had made the imaginary characters in this novel became lively and more real so that it is difficult to distinguish the real historical and imaginary characters.
         The story was proceeded in a way that greed and struggle were main factors for survival. This novel presents knotty problems that were later solved. Each episode of this novel contains adventures, investigation, intellectual challenge, fighting, and love. The author had proceeded the story well from the beginning until the end and the novel makes the readers pleasured and excited all the time.
         There are main key characters in this novel. The first to be mentioned is Collin Cunningham, an American adventurer who earned his wealth through his cleverness and opportunism. However, his greed led him to misapplication of the pirated loots for himself. Finally, his life was ended in suffering way in the cave on Tarutao.
         The second main character is Hawkins, a British soldier full of greed and evil. He then became an outrageous pirate. He also planned to take all the pirated loots for himself alone but his life was also ended because of his greed.
         The third one is Lieutenant Kevin Knox, a clever and intelligent British Army officer, who is extremely engaged to his assigned mission which he could risk his life for it. He is very straight and never let himself involved with injustice and evil. Instead, he is always ready to act against such things. Being assigned to arrest Hawkins and colleagues, Knox successfully accomplished his mission. He was married to Malatee, a Malay lady, who was both sole mate and helper. At the end, their good later paid off them great happiness. As such, "The Pirates of Tarutao" is a happy ending story.
         The other characters such as Khun Apipat, political prisoners, guards, and others involved in the story helped the novel appropriately carried out. As a director of the prison, he is responsible to survival of thousands of people under his command. Struggling to survive alone, Khun Apipat decided to commit illegal actions but this guilt made the readers impressed and, hence, gave him sympathy.
         The scenes described in "The Pirates of Tarutao" appropriately reflected not only real conditions of the World War II, the Philippines, Malaya and Thailand but also of Tarutao and the islands nearby, particularly, the dreadful and dangerous conditions of Tarutao. The described pirate and fighting scenes were exciting and inducing. ี
         The other prominence of this novel is its simplicity of literary. The authors, both English and Thai version, expressed the story with clear and simple languages. As such, "The Pirate pf Tarutao" is among the best sellers. It is also believed that this novel will be translated into other languages and become a favorite of the people around the world for quite a long time.

 

Reviewed by Krue Tao

Translator : Aketawan Manowongsa
13 Sep 2005