Published by Leaf By Leaf isbn 978-1-78864-940-7
Some thoughts on this new book offered up by Alan Dearling
‘Fascinating, insightful, life-affirming and informative.’ Some of my thoughts as I read my way through this ‘novel’, which is set in England, Scotland, China, Germany, Denmark, and France with excursions into other parts of Europe and beyond. There are two time frames, the first set around 1942 through to the culmination of the Second World War. And secondly, modern China and London 2019-2020, as the Covid pandemic started to unfold and ravage the world in a very different kind of ‘war’.
For Roger this is a first-time novel. It is a major undertaking. He’s written educational books and reports, but this book is essentially a rich-mix of his own life/family experiences, much research into the relatively unknown war between Japan and China, and the RAF’s and American involvement in supporting the Chinese war efforts. Roger has attended creative writing courses relatively late in his life and has used personal, family ‘tales’ and experiences, putting them through a fictional blender. It’s quite some task, adding in detail from fighter pilot training regimes in the UK and China; bombing raids; night-time sorties; German interrogations; the French and Danish resistance movements; incarceration in Dachau; international Chinese relations in war-time and in modern times. There’s much more too, including the many facets of falling in love, devotion, and a wealth of fascinating detail about Chinese medicine and philosophies.
“Study the past if you would to define the future.”
Kong Zi (Confucius)
‘Degrees of Separation’ provides the fabric for a clever inter-twining of the lives of individuals, families, cultures that cross geographical, social and cultural divides. It’s never two-dimensional – the characters are ‘warts and all’. Lovers come and lovers go. Friendships seem to outlive relationships. The spider’s web of lives are spun effectively by Roger White to engage the reader into lesser-known places, time periods and historical events such as the often murderous Chinese power struggle between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse Tung.
I really don’t want to detail the ‘characters’ in the book or the ‘plot’ as it interweaves together people and places across generations. Suffice it to say, that Roger keeps his foot on the gas, we want to read more, and find out how the jigsaw pieces from 80 years Chinese and UK are conjoined.
Whilst I read the book and considered the experience afterwards. The strengths of ‘Degrees of Separation’ and its possible weaknesses are the same. We are confronted by wealth of detail, data, historical incidents and considerable dialogue in Mandarin, German, Danish and Second World War Limey and Yankee’ slang’. Occasionally it feels that the Chinese and the Brits are painted a bit too clearly as the ‘good guys’ contrasted with the Japanese and the Germans. But, that would have been as many people would have perceived it in WW2. Wars of the Righteous pitted against Evil. Sometimes it is just a bit clunky. But, it perhaps adds to the authenticity of the book.
All in all, a very different opportunity to glimpse into little known history and a charming love story too, frequently buried in the historical consequences of hatred, brutality and bravery.