Shogun

Shōgun - James Clavell It wasn't far into the book before I knew I wouldn't, couldn't stop despite the novel's intimidating length of over a thousand pages. What grabbed me was the conflict here between East and West--and Clavell picked a perfect time period to highlight those differences, at the dawn of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1600 only a few decades after Jesuits had established Christianity in the country but just a few decades before Japan closed itself off from the West for over two centuries. The plot centers upon John Blackthorne, the English pilot of a Dutch ship that is disabled off the coast of Japan during the time the Portuguese held a monopoly on trade. I've read reviews complaining the depiction of the Japanese isn't always accurate; it isn't surprising Clavell, an Australian-born American citizen, might miss nuances of the different cultures he depicts, largely Japanese, (but also British, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese) especially since the novel is set about 400 years in the past. (I read that, in particular, Clavell's Japanese is Babelfishian in its syntax and there are cultural anachronisms. For those who find the overall plot implausible, however, they should look up William Adams, the real English pilot and samurai upon whom Blackthorne is based.) I'm not qualified to know where Clavell might have gone astray, but at least the novel is balanced enough that both the Europeans and Japanese are portrayed as having admirable and repugnant qualities as cultures and individuals. The prose isn't smooth. There are point of view shifts and a lot of information dumped on the reader in less than an organic way, especially in the first couple of parts. Despite that I found this an engrossing yarn. Clavell is wonderful at conveying Blackthorne's reactions to a culture so alien to him and how he's transformed by his experiences with it, part conversion, part Stockholm syndrome. At the heart of the story is a well-rendered romance, and I thought Mariko, a Christian Samurai, made both a good match and foil to Blackthorne. There was certainly plenty of intrigue, (often gory) action, and touches of humor to hold my interest and the novel did make me want to learn more about Japan and wish to read a Japanese novel or history sometime, especially about this period. (I've heard the Japanese historical novelists Shusaku Endo and Eiji Yoshikawa are good places to start.) I liked it enough I might even try Clavell's other novel of Japan, Gai-jin, a kind of sequel to this one, but dealing with the period of the Meiji Restoration and reopening of Japan to the West around 250 years later.