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Archive for February 15th, 2012

I would like to talk about the two books by James Clavell – The Shogun and Tai-pan this time. I remember picking Shogun when I was at college and then put it down intimidated by the size (around 1200 pages) and that too it was in fine print – usual Rs 40 per copy print. Now my co-brother read it and reminded be of the author and the book again. V was surprised to know I haven’t yet read Shogun and promptly picked up the book from the library the next time he went.

Shogun – It was such a pleasure to read the book and Shogun made an interesting read, totally awesome. It is really good to read a very enticing story set in the boring history period of British incursion int0 Asian countries. We read so much in history and forget all about it… Later when you end up reading a story related to that period it all comes back to you! I learnt more about WWs in Fiction novels than what I learnt in History during school days! May be we should have stories to go with the history lessons making them more appealing rather than make kids remember dates by rote!

Anyway back to the book, the story is about a British sailor / adventurer Blackthorne , the Japanese woman Mariko he falls head over heels in love with and an indestructible Japanese Lord Toronaga who aspires or should I say conspires to become the Shogun of Japan.  Blackthorne’s ship docks in the shores of a Japanese village and he and his crew are taken captive. What would shock you is how primitive the ways of the British sailors are to the Japanese people and how soon Blackthorne realizes the errors in his way of living and tries to emulate the Japanese and ends up becoming a Samurai. The word HONOR means everything to the people there and something as trivial as taking a bath is a ritual to them as is drinking Tea or watching a rock grow!! I knew bath was not a regular act back in those early days in Britain (of course only  from other books), but this book just blatantly points out the savage ways that existed in the West when the East was so advanced in the cleanliness and spiritual awareness.

The writing of Clavell has an addictive quality and you just don’t realize you are really reading a humongous book! All the characters are interesting and unpredictable and you can never guess what would happen next. There is a lot of violence in the book – seppukku – honor suicide when one fails their duty is the most common. But you will end up admiring that unwavering commitment they have to their role and how they would rather commit honorable assisted-suicide rather than live with the shame of failure. I was in particular stunned at one point, when one Japanese general enters the Warlord’s quarters, on his way thinking about how the guard at the door is the husband of his favourite grand daughter and how much he is looking forward to seeing his great grand kids, from that couple, grow up.  The very next scene is that there is somehow a breach of security and there is a foiled attempt on the Warlord. The instant the danger is averted the same Japanese general says the guard should commit seppukku for failing his duty without even a second thought. There is not even a hesitation in his mind or words and the author doesn’t even attempt to explain the situation, such is the Japanese way of holding on to their honor. The same general in a week requests the warlord to allow his grand daughter and her one year old son to commit seppukku as they do not want to live with the shame of the guard. The general however doesn’t approve it and ends up assigning that grand daughter as a courtesan to Samurai Blackthorne, who is addressed as Anjin-san throughout the book. Sharing the quarters with a savage Westerner-turned-Samurai is the punishment to her!!

The strategies of Lord Toronaga are so astounding in nature and I wondered how James Clavell could conjure up such conniving schemes. All the details of the war and the culmination of the plot to the final climax is all so clearly laid-out that leaves you awe-struck. How can I forget to mention the most beautiful love story that was running all through the story.. The love shared by Blackthorne and Mariko is really magical and you wish them a life of togetherness though you know it may not happen.  I am not sure how much of a clear representation of the Japanese culture and civilization  the book is of the 17th century Japan, but what James Clavell portrays, he does it with such a confidence that I just want to believe him. I was also amazed at how the Catholic Church already had its presence in Japan and how the politics of the country was shaped a little by them!! I always admire the Church for the strong conviction they have in their religion and how far and wide spread they took the message of God as they know it. The Catholic Church, of course saw the Protestant sailors as a threat to all they had built so far in the country and they try to make it difficult for Anjin-san. The friction between the parties involved is gripping! Anyway I think I am giving too much plot away and my brain is already screaming “Spoiler Alert” . So I would stop here! Please do read this book when you get a chance.

Tai-pan – Smitten by the work of James Clavell in Shogun, I picked Tai-pan right next. Infact Tai-pan is an earlier book by the author. This book was indeed entertaining in its own way. This book is set in the turbulent days of the establishment of Hong-Kong and is about Dirk Struan who has been accorded the honorable title of Tai-pan and his rival Tyler Brock. There is a constant power struggle between them and their need to establish their trading company in Hong-Kong that would serve to trade with Mainland China. Dirk Struan is a man defined only in contradictions, a visionary who wants to open up China to the West and is an unorthodox manipulator, but is also portrayed very humane.

In this book, the Tai-pan though seems to work establishing his trading house – the Noble house as the leader among the British traders, actually looks at a long term goal of reaping the benefits of a trade agreement with China. The tea trade and the Opium trade and their economics are easily portrayed and I understood why the English promoted tea cultivation in India and why it was important for them to not be dependent on China for Tea! The Asian saga of James Clavell I am sure would teach more History to students than any traditional academic history books. 🙂 That said I am now more equipped to teach S and A their history with a better understanding!

Again how can the Church not be there in a book set in Asia, however closed Mainland China is to everyone else, the Church has it presence there already!

James Clavell truly loves Asia why else he would take such effort to bring about the finer points in the culture and have the hero of his stories emulate them and make them appreciate and balance the ways of Europe and Asia. Of the two books Shogun and Taipan, I liked Shogun better, but trust me, both are incredibly readable and would suck you into the plot and make you live along with the Characters.

I will be sure to pick up Noble house by James Clavell soon to followup on what happened after Tai-pan ended! :)I have been totally busy at both personal and work front and I have been having this entry WIP for like close to three weeks.. I just seemed to have some spare time today and here I complete the entry.

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