Review

Sarawak
by Jerry D. Mohrlang (Malaysia 1965–67)
PublishAmerica
July, 2002
352 pages
$24.95

Reviewed by Tucker Clark (Nepal 1967–70)

I WAS VERY EXCITED when the editor of PeaceCorpsWriters.org forwarded a copy of Jerry Mohrlang’s novel, simply called Sarawak, for me to review. I had told the editor that I was very interested in books that were based on elaborations of the cultures or experiences we had in our Peace Corps assignments. I am convinced ALL of us have stories to tell gleaned from our experiences.
     That said, I say run — don’t walk — to read Jerry’s incredibly well-researched, gripping, tale of high adventure and intrigue set in the 1830s that is based on the life of a young English aristocrat, James Brooke, who left an assured life of comfort, and a certain, endowed, gentry marriage to pursue his dreams of fortunes to be made in the Far East. Brooke became — by incredible circumstances — the first white Rajah of Sarawak, ruling the head-hunting, primitive, always warring indigenous tribes of Malay, Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak.
     But much to Jerry’s credit, he uses his knowledge of these tribes, their languages, culture, foods, et al, to have this clash of civilizations equally told and understood on all sides. It starts on the tribal side and we fast learn a whole new lexicon that he integrates into the clash. He tells a tale worthy of James Clavell’s Shogun and Noble House and Clavell’s allegiance to Japanese culture and historical consideration. And it has all the excitement and naval expertise of the twenty Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin series of 19th century sea-faring historical colorful narratives.
     For selfish reasons I had to talk to Jerry after I finished this page-turner, because I had to know how he came up with the story and how it evolved, why it is fiction — not even “faction” — (although he did tell me many of the characters were real and some were amalgams, and there were actually three White rajahs in the James Brooke lineage who ruled Sarawak until the twentieth century!), and . . . how he got it published!

A publisher endorsement
     For you aspiring writers, it sounds like PublishAmerica Publishers — if you can secure a contract, as Jerry did after sending them the book in January ’02 and getting an “OK-Go Ahead” ten days later at no cost but to a percentage of the sales — is incredible. Arranging ISBN numbers, digital publishing capacity, contracts, website-access, and links to warehouses like Ingram, Baker and Amazon, they seem to be a step above publish-on-demand folks, e-book and vanity press venders.
     And Jerry himself has worked to get the word out about this book through his www.ColoradoWriter.homestead.com personal site.

A new book
He is ushering up these resources and more to launch another contracted (with PublishAmerica), historical, adventure novel called Mujahidin which deals with a former Israeli Moussad agent fighting in Afghanistan — again based on historic precedence and Jerry’s research into this incredibly pertinent world stage.

The riddle as to how he got to be such a good writer
Jerry got to exercise his writing talents while serving as a Peace Corps project coordinator in Sarawak, right after that country joined 14 other states to form the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. He witnessed the fighting, tribal conflicts, and utter brutality of the geography much as his character James Brooke did a hundred years before. He became a chronicler and his personal experiences, tales from his tribal countrymen, and subsequent links to Brooke descendants and Sarawak natives (who loved the book when it was published) made for a rich interplay for the book.
     I could wax poetic further, as to how one gets totally immersed in both the British naval lore and tribal cultures of Sarawak, the rich characters and intrigues that build up throughout this book, the wrenching descriptions of the travails, and brutal customs, but I will leave it to you to go out and judge for yourself about Sarawak — and the upcoming Mujahidin. I can only highly recommend that you do so!

Tucker Clark is a consultant /writer with masters degrees in psychology and social work, and too many “formers” in his vitae. For two decades he has been involved in clinic management and psychiatric training, substance abuse counseling, drug education publishing, corporate trainings and outplacement seminars, famine relief training in Ethiopia in 1985; e-commerce and internet marketing, bookselling, and writing fiction. To help maintain his Westport, Connecticut lifestyle, he network markets the PrePaid Legal Services product at the big money Director level.