Short summary - The Royal Way - André Malraux

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Royal Way
André Malraux

The action takes place in Southeast Asia (on the territory of Thailand, South Vietnam and Cambodia) a few years after the First World War. The young Frenchman Claude Vannek goes to Siam (the official name of Thailand until 1939 - EM) in search of ancient Khmer bas-reliefs. There is a demand for Asian rarities in Europe, and Claude hopes to get rich. On the ship, he meets Perken - this German or Dane belongs to the number of Europeans who are ready to put their lives on the line for the sake of glory and power. He has extensive experience of communicating with the natives - according to rumors, he even managed to subjugate one of the local tribes. Claude is irresistibly drawn to Perken, because he guesses a kindred spirit in him - both are eager to fill their existence with meaning. Claude realizes that he needs a reliable companion: in the Siamese jungle, white people face many dangers, and the most terrible of them is to fall into the hands of unconquered savages. Claude reveals to Perken his plan: to walk along the former Royal Road, which once connected Angkor (a grandiose complex of temples and palaces built in the 9th-13th centuries - EM) with the Menam River Delta and Bangkok. There are dead cities and dilapidated temples: almost all of them have already been plundered, but the thieves were not interested in stones.
Perken agrees to take part in the expedition: he suddenly needs money and, in addition, he wants to know about the fate of his missing friend - Grabo's traces are lost in the places where my Thai tribe lives. Having agreed to meet in Phnom Penh, Perken disembarks in Singapore, and Claude sails on to Saigon, where the department of the French Institute is located, which sent him on a business trip allegedly for archaeological research. Claude receives requisition vouchers, which gives him the right to hire carriage drivers. However, the young archaeologist is warned that all found bas-reliefs must remain in place - from now on, they are only allowed to be described. In Bangkok, a representative of the French colonial administration advises Claude not to get involved with such a dangerous type as Perken: this adventurer was trying to buy machine guns from Europe. At the meeting, Perken explains that his cherished goal is to protect his tribes from the invasion of Europeans. Stepping onto the Royal Road, Caod and Perken find themselves in the face of eternity. The jungle embodies an irresistible nature, capable of crushing an insignificant insect - a person at any second. White people are slowly advancing, accompanied by the battle of Xa, carters, a guide and a Cambodian named Svay, who was assigned to them by a French representative, who took their venture extremely negatively. At first, searches do not give any results - among the many ruins no plates with interesting carvings have survived. Claude is already beginning to despair, but then luck smiles at the travelers - they find a bas-relief depicting two dancers. According to the young archaeologist, more than five hundred thousand francs can be obtained for these stones. Perken is stunned: he went to Europe for money, while he should have looked in the jungle - each such plate costs ten machine guns and two hundred rifles. With incredible difficulty, Claude and Perkin manage to cut out bas-reliefs from the wall of the temple - the forest once again proves its power to them. At night, Pile and the guide leave, and after them the carters disappear. It soon becomes clear that it is impossible to find new ones, since Svay managed to warn the inhabitants of all nearby villages. With Claude and Perken, only Xa remains - fortunately, this Siamese knows how to drive a cart. Claude is shocked by the betrayal of the French commissioner: it is clear that the bas-reliefs will have to be thrown, otherwise they will be confiscated. Then Perken suggests getting to Bangkok through the lands of the unconquered - having two thermos with alcohol and beads, you can take a chance. In a small mountain village, travelers find a guide from the stieng, one of my tribes. The native claims that a white person lives among them, and Perken has no doubt that it is about Grabo. This is a man of rare courage, possessing a kind of primitive grandeur. Like Perken, he craves possession — and especially power over women. Grabo always despised death and was ready to go to the most terrible torments in order to prove his strength to himself - so, once he gave himself a bite to a scorpion. Stiengs surely appreciated these qualities: if his friend is alive, he is a herd leader.
The jungle looks increasingly hostile and dangerous. On the way to the main village of Stiengs, travelers begin to worry: the guide does not always warn them about poisoned combat arrows and thorns - only Perken's experience allows them to avoid traps. Perhaps these are the intrigues of other leaders, but it is possible that Grabo ran wild among the Stiengs and is trying to defend his freedom. The terrible truth is revealed only on the spot: the stiengs, having blinded and emasculated Grabo, turned him into a pitiful slave - almost into an animal. Both whites are threatened by the same fate: the young archaeologist is ready to put a bullet in his forehead, but Perken rejects this cowardly way out and goes to negotiations, knowing full well what awaits him in case of failure. Stumbling from the tension, he knees down on a combat arrow stuck in the ground. He manages to accomplish the impossible: the stiengs agree to let them out of the village in order to exchange Grabo for one hundred clay jugs, which will be delivered to the agreed place. The contract is sealed with an oath on rice vodka. Only after that Perken smears iodine on his swollen knee. He has a violent fever.
After five days, travelers reach the Siamese village. The visiting English doctor does not leave Perken any hopes: the wounded with purulent arthritis will live no more than two weeks - amputation could have saved him, but he will not have time to get to the city. Perken sends a report to Bangkok that wild steengs have mutilated a white man. The authorities immediately dispatch a punitive squad. Perken is taken to the place of exchange in a cart - he is no longer able to move independently. Claude rides with him, as if enchanted by the breath of death. Following the liberation of Grabo, the hunt for stieng begins - they are pursued like animals, and in despair they rush to the villages of the mountain tribes, who recognized Perken as their leader. But now the white man is so weak that he cannot inspire respect for himself: the Siamese do not want to listen to him and accuse him of causing the violent attacks of the Stiengs. Perken calls in vain to fight the civilization that has come close: if the mountaineers miss the military column, the railway will follow. In the views of the natives, Perken clearly guesses indifference - for them he is already a dead man. As the drug addict warned, Perken's agony is terrible. Before the very end, nothing human remains in his face - he wheezes that there is no death, for only he alone is destined to die. Claude burns with a desire to convey to his friend at least a bit of brotherly sympathy, but when he hugs Perken, he looks at him as at a creature from another world.