One's Company

by Peter Fleming
[Scribners, $2.75]
THE chuckle that comes quite unexpectedly as you read One’s Company is the best testimony as to the manner in which this book is written. It is full of sudden chuckles, and contains in addition three hearty guffaws. For the rest it is almost painstakingly slight, with an occasional hint that the reader no doubt is bored with China. That attitude, to my mind, is a blemish and so is the advertisement: —
The recorded history of Chinese civilization covers a period of four thousand years.
The population of China is estimated at 450 millions.
China is larger than Europe.
The author of this book is twenty-six years old.
He has spent, altogether, about seven months in China.
He does not speak Chinese.
The first three warnings have been given us before and we are familiar with them. The last three boasts ought to make us shy off the book, suspicious of precocity. Happily I missed them till I had read the book and been thoroughly delighted. Then I realized that what I had liked was the genuine youth of twenty-six ready to try anything once and already adept at telling a good tale. The less attractive youthfulness (appearing seldom) is when the author says that he hates sightseeing and then, realizing that this is a quality shared byall of us in direct proportion to our dullness, tries to take it back and insists that he is not posing — simply being lazy. Happily he does see sights and uncommonly odd ones, reporting them with gusto and intelligence. He even comes to some extremely sound and kind conclusions about the ubiquitous Chinese soldiery and is most convincing on the subject of Communism in Kiangsi Province. As for the bestialness of photographing condemned men tied to a stake and of publishing the photographs, I have n’t a doubt that Mr. Fleming will outgrow that when he has reached twenty-seven.
If Mr. Fleming had n’t been so young and so careful not to know Chinese, he would have found out that, instead of being intolerably bored by a delay in ChinChow, he could have been examining a brick pagoda of the tenth century on which are sculptured Buddhist paradise scenes that are worth many thousands of miles of travel to see and are not known to the art collectors. Also he should have obeyed that very proper impulse to leave the train at Verkhne-Udinsk and take a chance. Step off that station platform and you are, from that moment, in for the very stuff that such eager twentysix-year-olds as Fleming would love best.
The author is quite right that one is company, when one is witty and friendly and busy storing up material for a prime tale. Let the London Times send him out again. We can trust him to come to interesting conclusions about the really moving events of the Far East and to retail to us the madder and less consequential moments quite inimitably.