The Sand Pebbles
|The Sand Pebbles|
First edition cover
|Publisher||Harper & Row|
|Media type||Print - hardcover|
The Sand Pebbles is a 1962 novel by American author Richard McKenna about a Yangtze River gunboat in 1926. It was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post for the three issues from November 17, 1962 through December 1, 1962. The author completed it in May 1962, just in time to enter it in the 1963 Harper Prize Novel Contest. Not only was it picked over 544 other entries for the $10,000 first prize and accepted for publication by Harper & Row, but it was also chosen as the following January's Book-of-the-Month Club selection.
Richard McKenna served aboard a Yangtze River gunboat in 1936 but set the novel a decade earlier, during the Nationalist Northern Expedition of 1925–1927, aboard the USS San Pablo, a gunboat left from the Spanish–American War. The phrase "sand pebble" is a pun on the boat's name; thus, the sailors who serve on her are the sand pebbles.
The novel describes a life of boredom and sudden battle action, but the chief conflict is between the traditional western ideas, which saw China in racist and imperialist terms, and emerging nationalism. The protagonist, engine mechanic Jake Holman, teaches his Chinese workers—he refuses to call them "coolies"—to master the ship's machinery by understanding it, not just "monkey see, monkey do". The ship is sent to save the China Light Mission from anti-foreign mobs, setting off a debate: "No man who favors the unequal treaties has the right to call himself a Christian!" Others reply "It is time for the Society for Propagation of the Gospel to step aside. It is time for the Society for Propagation of Cannonballs to bring them to their senses." After the crew burn and destroy a war junk, Holman takes a landing squad to rescue the missionaries, but is pinned down and killed.
- Arrington, Ward (22 December 2010). "The Sand Pebbles Puzzle". Grove Antiquarian. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
- Pp. 388–91
- Robert Shenk, "Mckenna's the Sand Pebbles and the 'Poetry of Machinery'", Critique 23.1 (1981): 67–81.
- Richard McKenna, The Sand Pebbles: A Novel (New York: Harper & Row, 1962). Reprinted: Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2000. ISBN 1-55750-446-6.
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