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Cover of: The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna
About the Book

Literary theorist Georg Lukacs complains in his seminal work, The Historical Novel, that the works of imaginative literature too often use history as a mere backdrop, a way for an author to decorate the story and characters. Lukas singles out Sir Walter Scott, English author of such works as Ivanhoe and the Waverly novels, as a notable exception. According to Lukas, Scott's novels document, with painstaking verisimilitude, the character of the historical period in which the action is taking place, and, as a result, treat history as more than just mere scenery. One feels that Lukacs might make a similar exception for Richard McKenna, whose award-winning 1962 novel, The Sand Pebbles, has often been compared to Scott's classic novels. Set aboard an American gunship patrolling the Yangtze river on the eve of revolution in China, The Sand Pebbles is rich in detail drawn from McKenna's meticulous research as well as his firsthand experiences of China as a member of the U.S. Navy. As a spirit of nationalism inspired by Chiang Kai-shek's leadership begins to sweep through China, the river gunship San Pablo is ordered to patrol the region and protect U.S. citizens. The crew of the ship is soon drawn into an international conflict as the Chinese Nationalists begin trying to expel the "foreign devils" from their shores. The conflict will not only illustrate the divide between east and west but also provoke a divide among the members of the crew itself. What The Sand Pebbles also has in common with the truly great historical novels of the past is that its wealth of regional and historical detail is never allowed to overwhelm the story or the characters. The protagonist of McKenna's novel is Jake Holman, a machinist aboard the San Pablo who has joined the Navy in order to avoid jail time. Fiercely independent, Jake remains something of a loner aboard the San Pablo, uncomfortable with Naval protocol and discipline. It is his rebellious spirit that animates much of McKenna's novel. His independent-mindedness chafes against military hierarchy, and helps ensure that he does not share his shipmates' disdain for the Chinese. Instead, he is fascinated with the culture and the people that surround him and develops emotional bonds that will prove difficult to manage when circumstances turn tumultuous and more dire. The perspective of The Sand Pebbles is therefore both panoramic and personal. Like Lawrence of Arabia, the great tension explored here is between the individual and the vast matrix of social and historical forces within which he finds himself. The Sand Pebbles was also made into a 1966 movie of the same name starring Steve McQueen.

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6 editions First published in 1962

Edition Read Borrow Buy
Cover of: The Sand Pebbles
1962, Harper & Row
The Sand Pebbles
in English - [1st ed.]
Cover of: The Sand Pebbles
June 1963, Harpercollins
The Sand Pebbles
Hardcover
Cover of: The sand pebbles
1984, Naval Institute Press
The sand pebbles
in English
Cover of: The Sand Pebbles
December 1991, Buccaneer Books
The Sand Pebbles
Library binding in English
Cover of: The sand pebbles
2000, Naval Institute Press
The sand pebbles
in English
Cover of: The Sand Pebbles
2003, RosettaBooks
The Sand Pebbles
E-book in English

History Created December 10, 2009 · 8 revisions
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December 4, 2010 Edited by Open Library Bot Added subjects from MARC records.
November 15, 2010 Edited by ImportBot add to lending library
October 21, 2010 Edited by EdwardBot remove books from lending library
October 20, 2010 Edited by BorrowBot Adding to Lending Library
December 10, 2009 Created by WorkBot add works page