Books: Bigger Than Life

TAI-PAN by James Clavell. 590 pages. Atheneum. $6.95.

The Opium War in 1841. Hong Kong. The plague. War junks. Tongs. China clippers sailing on the tide (and on nearly every page). May-may, a Chinese concubine who gargles baby urine. Gorth Brock, a bastardo degenerado. Wolfgang Mauss. Shevaun. The priapic painter Aristotle Quance. Redhaired, green-eyed, sharkproof Dirk Struan, Tai-Pan (Supreme Leader) of The Noble House, trader in poppies, mayhem and tea.

By Odin's foreskin!, as the author says. What isn't in this belly-gutting, god-rotting typhoon of a book? In his bestselling first novel King Rat,...

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