The novel “ Playing for Malaya” by Rebecca Kenneison is a very poignant story set in British Malaya which at the time were under the colonial rule of the British Empire. During this epoch, many European settlers that had come to the peninsula ended up being romantically involved with the Asian natives. Some of these relationships would in some cases culminate in there being a union of the individuals involved and the relationships consummated in marriage. One such example is the Euroasian family whose account is given in this book.
It is a story set between the 1930s and 1940s and tells the story of a Euroasian family that has to contend with the new changes in administration in this part of the British Empire. The empire of Japan under Emperor Hirohito decides to embrace is expantionist policy and invade most of the territory around it in a bid to flex its military might. It starts with the invasion of the Province of Manchuria in the Republic of China to create its own province of Manchukuo in 1931, to Borneo, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands and later the invasion of British Malaya on 8th December 1941. This invasion would lead to skirmishes between the British Commonwealth army units manning the outposts in British Malaya and the Imperial Japanese Army .
After the Malaya Peninsula was overran by the Imperial Japanese army, units of the Commonwealth army fell one by one and soon the whole island was crawling with the invaders. Caught between this campaign was the Euroasian family whose story is told in this book. Being Malayan and also having Europeans as relatives meant that they were in double trouble. This is due to the fact that they were automatically supporting the Allied Powers (United States of America, the British Empire and Russia) secretly due to their ties to Europe firstly, and secondly due to the wanton brutality that the Japanese had towards their subjects especially those suspected of being infiltrators or spies for the Allies.
The Kenneison family is caught between a rock and a hard place. They are Euroasians who support the Allies and a strongly against this Japanese invasion of their homeland but do not want to show their real feelings openly for fear of reprisals. Being Euroasian during the time of Japanese invasion meant that one was considered European. This meant that the Kenneison family had to tread lightly in these tumultuous times lest they be accused of being spies for the British Empire and summarily executed by the Japanese. This is a story of endurance in the face of persecution for this family which has to try all it can to protect themselves from the wrath of their new masters. Charlie Kenneison in this story has to do all there is to ensure that his family is out of any danger and also ensure that they are well through their story of endurance.
The second book to be considered in comparison in this essay is “The Immortal Life of Henrietta” by Rebecca Skloot. This is a story about a terminally ill black woman (Henrietta Lacks) at John Hopkins hospital where she has been admitted for cervical cancer. The resident in charge of tissue research, Dr. George Gey does the imaginable when she takes tissue from her cervical tissue in a bid to create a line of immortal line of human cells. Before all this, all other attempts that he had taken to create this immortal strain had failed but with Henrietta’s cells, things were different. These cells did not die off like the previous ones and this led to the development of the HeLa Strain which would lead to the creation of a multimillion dollar industry that would lead to numerous research projects.
Unfortunately, Henrietta dies less than a year after her diagnosis of this terrible affliction that had ravaged her and ends up being buried in an unmarked grave in her family’s land. It is also important to note that her family was completely unaware of the fact that her cells had been taken for tissue research in order to help combat various forms of cancer. It is this sudden realization at the age of fifteen that leads a young student, Rebecca Skloot, follow up on this issue and to trace any of her living children later on in life and to reveal to them this medical feat that was ostensibly brought forth by their mothers cells.
Rebecca ,in her quest to find Henrietta’s surviving children, meets Deborah who is her surviving daughter. It soon dawns on Deborah that this information about the HeLa strain of cells had been kept from their family for over two decades and they were in actual sense oblivious to this information. This leads Deborah to finding out the truth about what really happened to her mother and the tissue that went forth to create the HeLa Strain which led to worldwide research and medical breakthroughs that saved thousands of lives after her death.
Rebecca also seeks to create a relationship with Deborah in order to gain her trust. This for her was important as it would be very difficult for her to give all this information and also seek additional information if she was not trusted by her. This later on leads to a beautiful friendship between these two women as Rebecca helps her gain closure on the death of her mother.
In comparing these two books, “Playing for Malaya” by Rebecca Kenneison stands out with its clear depictions of globalism. It is this world view that led the British to travel all the way to oriental areas of the world such as Asia in search of new opportunities to trade and to exchange culture. This culminated in unions such as those seen in this book between individuals of European descent and the Asian locals thus creating the Euroasian people of Malaysia.
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta” by Rebecca Skloot also presents a situation of globalism where there is the creation of the HeLa strain of tissue cells. These cells , although being from the united states would be used to cure various individuals around the world. This was a positive feat as more and more people would experience newer forms of treatment that would assist in treating this terminal disease.
It is globalism that is also at the center of Japanese expansion in the Pacific. This empire had discovered other areas around it through the various trading contacts that they had created and thus later on, their leaders decided to embrace the policy of world domination through the invasion of other peoples lands and putting them under Japanese rule for their own material gain. This had also led them to invade the Malaya peninsula, where the Kenneison Euroasian extended family had created a home for themselves, and put them in firm Japanese rule.