A few years ago I picked up Pierre Boulle's other classic, Planet of the Apes. It was fascinating. I was so impressed with how Mr. Boulle delved into a simple concept. What if evolution isn't forward momentum but an arc? Could humanity revert and be replaced as intelligent life? His spare novel exploring this idea captured my imagination. I couldn't wait to read something else by Boulle.
I'm less enthralled but no less impressed by Bridge. Once again Boulle takes a single concept. This one is what does it mean to save your pride? What is the cost? He features a man who rescues himself and his company from depression by throwing themselves into building a bridge for their Japanese captors. When saboteurs from his own side try to destroy it he must choose between the work of his hands or the country he owes allegiance to. Unlike sci-fi, which has a much less noticeable generational appeal, Bridge suffered for me because I have so little understanding of the motivations of a captive in the jungle. The audience Boulle was writing for had suffered through German occupation and all the other horrors that came to France from World War II. I don't have that background. For me the characters come off as chariactures and their choices are infinitely frustrating. I'm used to heroic depictions of "The Greatest Generation", something that's not going to be seen in Bridge. Instead Boulle wrote an indictment against some of the views he understood but condemned. I'm glad I read about these people, because it helps me understand why something good can be twisted by time and circumstances into something else.
One last thing bothered me. Boulle's representation of the Japanese is pretty awful. Having grown up in a culture where Japanese influence is not just known but celebrated, Boulle's scathing commentary on Japan is hard to swallow. Yet it feels unfair to fault him. After all, he was a POW of Japanese war camps, known for their cruelty. For him they would always be the enemy.
In the end I don't feel like I can star rate this. I learned a lot from reading Bridge Over the River Kwai. I think I'm going to leave it at that.