"Ruined City" is a 1938 novel by Nevil Shute, the English-Australian novelist who was most famous for his speculative fiction novel On The Beach. "Ruined City" is a more standard novel, written during and set in Great Britain during the Great Depression. The book is written in a straightforward style, being an example of literary and social realism.

The book tells the story of one Henry Warren, a rich investment banker whose bank has managed to survive the Great Depression in a mostly liquid condition. His personal life is less happy, as his wife is obviously having an affair. When she asks for a divorce, he has a mid-life crisis (long before the term was current) and heads to the far north of England. He falls ill, and, not carrying any identity papers, he ends up in the charity ward of a hospital. While there, he finds out that the town, once a prosperous center of shipbuilding, has become destitute. This launches the book's main plot: out of gratitude for his care, and searching for a new, meaningful task, he decides to put his considerable financial knowledge and connections into reviving this town. The second act of the book involves him travelling to a fictionalized version of Albania (called "Laevatia"), where through hook and crook (actually mostly crook), he gets a contract to build ships in the town's port.

The first reading of this book is the story of a man whose vision inspires a community to improve. That is certainly a worthwhile story. But of course, a modern reader is prone to ask a few questions. Some of the more obvious questions might involve things like classism, racism and sexism, and the expected amount of those will be found. Someone might also ask a question about why an investment banker is the only one who can save a poor town. But my own question is about the difference shown between the poor communities of Great Britain, and the poor communities of the Albania-like nation. Because the book treats the poverty and depression of England in the 1930s as a temporary scourge that fell upon the honest, hard-working people from outside, and that given the first opportunity, the people rapidly and happily escape. On the other hand, the poverty of the Mediterranean region, although there are characters presented sympathetically, is seen as an intrinsic character of that society. While in Laevatia, Warren bribes government officials to get the deal for his shipyard, something that is portrayed as a distasteful task that an otherwise honest man must do in a corrupt country. The book then portrays a world where wealthy investment bankers, doing altruistic projects, are victimized by the perfidious corruption of less developed countries. This seems a little backwards to me, but is also a fairly good portrayal of how Europeans across the political spectrum deal with how they deal with the gap between their societies and the societies of their former colonies.

I have perhaps talked about the current political and social ramifications of this book more than is necessary: someone picking up a book from the 1930s will probably not expect the most inclusive and non-biased view of the world. The reader then, can read this book either as a fun adventure novel without worrying about its problematics, or can use it as a contemporary record of life in pre-World War II England.

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