Online Edition: Spring 2006

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FAN-TAN

Marlon Brando & Donald Cammell
edited and with an Afterword by David Thomson

Alfred A. Knopf ($23.95)

by Sam Howie

At 51, Annie Doultry is a Scottish-born, American-reared sailor and arms trader much tougher than his name implies. His collaborating creators, in spite of sometimes murky prose and overly convenient plot elements, offer an exciting account of Annie's adventures, beginning in a Hong Kong prison, circa 1927, and culminating with his service to a reckless Chinese pirate known as the Mountain of Wealth.

Annie claims he does not bet on anything except the cockroach races, yet the avowed non-bettor evaluates each of his life's decisions with the inexact pragmatics of a seasoned gambler. Released from prison after a relatively light sentence--Caucasians were treated much more favorably than Asians in the British run jail--Annie quickly settles an old score and then appears to adopt a conservative approach to the risk-versus-return analysis of daily decisions. However, he encounters the tempting Fan-Tan, a delightful game of chance Annie loves partly for its simplicity.

While drunk on the game's charming aura, he meets its corporeal equivalent: Madame Lai Choi San, the notorious Mountain of Wealth. Though the steps that lead to their meeting seem a bit contrived, they are forgivably so. Within the grips of Madame San's charismatic pirating skills--she seems to steal the wills of people as easily as lesser booty--Annie is vulnerable to a combination of greed, mysterious infatuation, and even a tinge of lust; he is compelled to flirt with stakes as great and capricious as the seas he loves to sail. Madame San is a typhoon of unknowns who renders incalculable the odds of success and failure Annie would estimate. She throws the sailor headlong into the riskiest and potentially most rewarding game of his life, with twists along the way, especially near the end, that reveal genuine human character.


To purchase Brando & Cammell's Fan-Tan, click here.