“It all starts with a place. Where I’ve been is what I write about.” P.F. Kluge’s quote headlines his website. And place is the main character in his latest novel, The Master Blaster. I breezed through; its pacing as swift as an island storm.
Kluge divulges that he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Saipan in 1967-1969 He’s returned a dozen times since then. His novel is a love song to a place loaded with history, corruption, diversity, and beauty.
One of the islands in the Marianas chain in the Western Pacific Ocean, Saipan is about 1,300 miles south of the Japanese islands. About five miles wide and 18 miles long, it’s been subject to foreign invasion and the scene of major battles in both World Wars; its location ideal as a base for air and naval strikes. It became a US territory in 1975. Exempt from many US federal laws, including labor and immigration, the island’s politics and development ran amok—garment factories hiring foreign laborers not subject to US safety and wage criteria. Minimum wage regulations were adapted in 2007 and immigration laws two years later.
Kluge ‘s novel focuses on the time before these laws, creating a picture of a “Wild West” lifestyle. The Master Blaster is a character- an anonymous writer on the island, who chronicles its corruption. His four protagonists meet upon arrival at the airport and wonder which one will be the first to leave and who will remain. There’s George Griffin, a travel writer seeking adventure. There’s Stephanie Warner, escaping a marriage and assuming a professorship at the island’s college. There’s Mel Brodie, an elderly businessman, hoping to capitalize on Saipan’s vacant real estate and there’s Khan, a Bangladeshi laborer, believing coming to Saipan means America. There lives connect, always against the backdrop of Saipan’s geography- beaches and cliffs, hotels and nightclubs, swindlers and prostitutes, tourists and natives.
This is the first book I’ve read by Kluge; I’m eager to read others.