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Feudal Japan. The year The age of iron and the morning of gunpowder, 12 years of peace after an epidemic of butchery. But the Taiko. Lord Protector of Japan, the peasant general who ordered , men to build Osaka Castle and ran his country like a genius chess player, has been dead a year. The five warlords—loranaga, Sugiyama. Onoshi, Kiyama, Ishido—oh serve the will in ceremony, while training armies and buying allies. War is inevitable. One regent finally must dominate. He will present his victory to the quiet gardenerEmperor and be appointed Shogun—Supreme Military Dictator.
Like a sign, or possibly a curse, and after a murderous storm and two years circling the globe, the first Englishman to pass through the Straits of Magellan, a pilot named John Blackthorne and a dozen human ruins aboard the East India Company's Erasmus of Amsterdam drift into the fishing village of Anjiro, which is controlled by one of Toranaga's fiefs.
The crewmen are near death. But the two strongest regents. For they bring the weapon of knowledge: information about the West, the sea and war with muskets instead of swords. I can't remember when a novel has seized my mind like this one. Claveil has a gift. It may be something that cannot be taught or earned. He breathes narrative. Yet it's not only something that you read—you live it.
The imagination is possessed by Blackthorne, Toranaga and medieval Japan. Clavell creates a world: people, customs, settings, needs and desires all become so enveloping that you forget who and where you are. It strives for epic dimension, and occasionally it approaches that elevated state. It's irresistible, maybe unforgettable and, finally, exhausting. Two volumes in one, and a half million words.
Clavell's plot is as simple as a sentence. But it's plot as complex as the Japanese personality or Japanese history. But none stands at the center because Clavell's hero is not a person. It's a place and time: medieval Japan on the threshold of becoming a sea power. Of course, since he is writing fiction based on historical events an English navigator named Will Adamsdid get to Japan in and taught the warlords sailing and musketry , rather than a history, Clavell must cre ate his Japan by using human means: his people give us the country.
What happens to them and how they respond tell us what they believe and why. Through the eyes of Blackthorne we see frozen rituals, mechanical emotions, physical purity. These are bizarre contrasts to the experiences of a worldly Protestant Englishman to whom romantic love, bleeding beef and women with lice comprise real life. Heads get chopped off after a few wrong words. Corpses are sliced into pieces; inept warriors get orders to kill their children and do it; intruders are boiled alive and enemies left to be eaten by dogs.
Most of it comes as a result of Ishido's and Toranaga's jockeying for power over the other regents and competing for Blackthorne. A deeper violence, equally interesting to Clavell, is the violence done to Blackthorne's most cherished beliefs and values.
Next is patience. Love is a Christian thought, a Christian ideal. If Blackthorne approaches karma, he does it at a price and through the secret weapon hidden in all of Japan's rituals, manipulation—for Japan, in the person of Toranaga, gives and takes away. Blackthorne's ship is destroyed, and he will build another. He loses his love and is sent another woman. He gives up his history and waits to make a new one. His proportions go wrong: a tea ceremony runs on for several pages; the first night of Blackthorne and Mariko gets three or four paragraphs.
His novel cries for cutting —it's not sacred. James Clavell is neither literary psychoanalyst nor philosophizing intellectual. He reports the world as he sees people—in terms of power, control, strength. He loves the Orient; he researches extremely well. He writes in the oldest and grandest tradition that fiction knows. By James Clavell. Archives Shogun. See the article in its original context from June 22, , Page Buy Reprints.
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Feudal Japan. The year The age of iron and the morning of gunpowder, 12 years of peace after an epidemic of butchery. But the Taiko.
Shogun : The First Novel of the Asian saga
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