I enjoyed and wrote about Tan’s first novel After Elias last year, totally impressed with his intense characterizations and interesting plotting. So, I was looking forward to this release. I won’t keep you in suspense but can share that it’s on a par with if not superior to Tan’s first book. Moreover, when I finished it, I didn’t feel as if I’d read it before. As with After Elias, The Rebellious Tide is an excellent ride that keeps its destination a secret until the very end.
Thirty-year-old Sebastien Goh has just lost his mother, and his father is only known to him as a mysterious sailor who abandoned them. Despite this (or because of it), Sebastien becomes obsessed with finding him. He actually tracks his father down, finding him the commanding officer of a cruise ship sailing the Mediterranean. He joins the crew, observing his father and trying to figure out why he ran away. In the meantime, an assault on one of the crew causes some outrage. Sebastien sides with the workers in a revolt against the officers. Engaged in that battle, he also finds the secret his father has hidden on the ship. The question is what to do with it.
Goh borders on stalkerish at first, but Tan refuses to make him a one-note character, giving him the more neutral air of a detective on the hunt for his father until the plot turns on a dime, and the book becomes bewitchingly layered. But Goh isn’t the only creep in the midst. His father is particularly loathsome in many respects, but that’s where I have to stop cold. I don’t want to give away any of the wonderful turns upon which the narrative is predicated.
You could also call this book The Militancy of Sebastien Goh, because in a number of respects that’s exactly what happens here. Goh is not only politicized because of the workers’ revolt, but this event transforms his worldview and gives him a place to look other than back on his relationship with his now-dead mother. And the revolt comes with its heroes and villains and martyrs, all of whom are delightful to meet–including Goh’s love interest. But we know these guys will never be a couple. It’s just not Goh’s destiny.
Rich in detail and deft in plot, Eddy Boudel Tan’s The Rebellious Tide is a wonderful read that will keep you intrigued until the last page. Highly recommended!
© 2022 Jerry L. Wheeler