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This product was added to our database on Thursday 26 february 2004.
Category Aviation Books, Subcategory WW2, ISBN/Box 1553694910, Publisher/Brand Trafford, Author Jackson James, Format a6+, No. Pages 189, Version sb, Language English
Above Sumatra vividly depicts war's soul-destroying effects on men serving in the strategic backwaters, and how a man fighting his way by night across a storm-wracked ocean finds with the dawn a promise of redemption.
Above Sumatra was first published in 1964 by Baxter Publishing of Toronto as To the Edge of Morning. The great Canadian poet Earle Birney wrote of it, "Not since St. Exupery has any story-teller caught me up so powerfully into the terrible and beautiful world of flight."
Gil Kramer is a Canadian pilot on a Royal Air Force squadron in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. It is 1943, a year after the Japanese attack on the island was thwarted by Canada's Squadron Leader Birchall. The Japanese have shifted to Burma in their drive to India and withdrawn their navy to the Pacific. When Kramer arrives in Ceylon, the island has been bypassed and the squadron, equipped with four-engined Liberator aircraft for long-range operations at sea, is virtually idle.
The squadron is based in the jungle, where the heat and humidity are exhausting. There is little flying because the enemy is far away and the aircraft are seldom serviceable. But the jungle is also Kramer's personal hell, in which months of inactivity leach away his resolve, the lack of flying weakens his confidence, and the constant fear of death from the aircrafts' unreliability or the violent tropical weather gnaws at his will. The letters from his high-school sweetheart, Jessica, come from another world that seems so vacuously unreal that he breaks off with her. He is unmoved on hearing she has married his boyhood friend, Chuck Leowey, back in Canada after a tour on bombers in Europe.
After eight months, reduced to lethargic passivity, he is shocked to be nominated for promotion as a flight commander. As he wrestles with this threat to his fragile stability the jungle's terror is suddenly manifest in a bandit gang's attack on the camp by night. Kramer is wounded in a violent encounter with one of the bandits; it forces him beyond the breaking point, and he collapses.
In hospital he becomes convinced the promotion will empower him to master the jungle. But just as he realizes he must have the job to survive, it is filled by the unexpected arrival of his friend Leowey. Kramer, stunned at losing what he believes promised his salvation, is maddened to find Leowey is to fly a photographic sortie he saw as confirming his new-found power. The jungle is no longer his enemy but his element; he retreats into it and becomes one of its creatures. He emerges to air-test the aircraft Leowey is to fly and okays it despite a defect in its controls. When Leowey is killed on takeoff, Kramer is consumed in guilty rage.
He flies the sortie in Leowey's place, achieving a distance from the jungle but unable to escape knowing he has killed his friend, and when a huge tropical storm looms ahead, he is ready to let it destroy the aircraft. The storm is violent, but Kramer's blind will to survive asserts itself, and the Liberator gets through. The storm exhausts him, and the draining away of emotion cleanses his soul. He sees his failure was not the jungle's corrupting power but his own weakness.
In the bleak morning light before landfall on Sumatra he is left spiritually empty, needing an undefined reassurance. He ignores a message from HQ to abandon the flight, certain there is more to discover. And then, at altitude for the run over Sumatra, he sees earth is no longer a suffocating jungle but as something sublime, a magnificent amphitheatre of green mountains and dramatic ravines glowing in morning mists, with a thin strip of human habitation clinging to the edge of the sea. After the dark night of his soul he realizes the humanity he shares with those below confirms his own humanity, that he had almost thrown away.
The epiphany, the possibility of redemption, is so powerful that he delays leaving the target, giving time for the Japanese fighters to climb to the attack.
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