Posts Tagged ‘Historical fiction’

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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I wish I had more time in hand, S keeps telling may be 24 hrs is not enough time for a day and it does seem true at times. I read so many books and of them there are many books I want to note down for posterity! I am hoping S and A would grow up to be avid readers and ask me for suggestions and I would have all my notes to readily share with them! Books indeed are the window to the world and my perception undergoes immense change with every book I read. Even the dumbest book can give you brilliant insights into stuff you would have stopped to think of. So there is no bad book, just books that move you and those that do not, but still may teach you a new thing or two!

This post is about the two books:

Room by Emma Donoghue and

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

My initial plan was to discuss Shogun, but I recently completed another book, Taipan by James Clavell and I would rather discuss them together in a separate post.

Room by Emma Donoghue – I waited for this book for close to 2 months, when I reserved the book I was 218 in line and even forgot about the book till it became available for checkout. What can I say, this book really moved me and stayed with me for a long time even after I finished it. Not that the plot was any unique, a teenage girl kidnapped and held as a captive without anyone knowing for years together. We have known in recent times that many such freaks exist in this world holding strangers or even wives and kids as captives hiding them for eternity and harassing them. This is a story of one such girl who was kidnapped and held aloof from outside world and she ends up delivering her son in that room and after that life changing event, she makes the purpose of her life to equip the son with all the knowledge she knows and make him strong and eventually with his help escape the “prison”.  The story is narrated by Jack the 5 year old son in his simple words and within the first ten pages of the book, you would be captivated by his narration and your mind would adjust to his thinking ways, addressing inanimate objects in the room as persons.

Within the confines of that room, it is amazing to see the maternal relationship bloom between the duo and how the son literally thinks the WORLD about his mom, after all according to him the world is made of just three people including the nocturnal visitor. The mom’s sincerity in creating a normal life for her son in the form of routines is admirable and she is such an excellent teacher as well. It just goes to show how someone can spend productive hours with a kid with very limited faculties as well, locked in a room. It made me think about the quality time I spend with my kids and how i can improve, and I am not talking about academic skills here! For someone who has spent all his 5 years of existence with his mom, Jack has such good manners when he is outside and treats everyone with respect!! I had to say this for to me, seeing a 7 year old turning into a little rebel right in my family, I am impressed of any kid with good manners,even in a book!! 🙂

The author has captured the effect in the little boy when he is exposed to the outside real world in a holistic manner and it just would move you, when you learn that the boy would rather go back to the safe world he knows, THE ROOM instead of experiencing the real world. The same room is both a heaven for Jack and hell for his mother. If you have not read this book, please do read it!!  It is a must-read kind of a book.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

This book was also reserved by me and I waited for a long time to get hold of it and I had the book for just a week, but I did not need a week to complete the book. Once I began this book, I hardly took any breaks in between, every waking moment when I wasn’t attending to the duo in my family, was spent with the book. It was really un-put-downable for me!

I cant wait to read other books by this awesome author and I hope he writes many many more!! This is his debut novel and you need to read the book to understand the Verghese effect I experienced. His narration of the plot and the depth he brought in every character in the book is amazing. The book revolves around the life of conjoined twins(separated at birth) born to an Indian nurse Mary Praise and a British surgeon Thomas Stone. How the birth of the twins Shiva Stone and Marion Stone bring people together and how the lives of the twins is influenced by their foster Indian parents is narrated in a seamless manner and as you watch the twins grow, you also notice the rise and fall of regimes in Ethiopia and get engrossed in the lives of immigrants in Ethiopia. The story begins with the disappearance of the father of the twins after the mother dies in child birth and their father’s disappearance haunts the twins all their life, in particular Marion’s. The foster parents happen to be Doctors as well and the kids grow up right there in the hospital and Shiva even without attending medical school is acclaimed for his successful medical procedures for a common condition in Ethiopia.  The magical relationship that Marion experiences rather imagines with his childhood crush Genet and how the same relationship takes him to death bed and destroys one of the twins, Verghese does have a style in tying all characters together. I loved the characters Dr. Hema and Dr. Ghosh and the influence they had on the twins upbringing. The US stint of Marion was interesting in many aspects and you would be surprised at how even the gory surgery details escape your attention when the story is so heart warming  and you feel kin-like with every character.

This book is another must-read according to me!! I do admit I am not too much critical of any book, I hardly ever say anything bad about a book, to me a book would fare excellent if one doesn’t read the book just to finish it but enjoy along with the characters and feel involved,and hear the author talking. And of course apart from all the good books I put down in my blog, I do read many other fiction books simultaneously but I only write about books that move me, so no wonder I have nothing but praise for the books in my blog! The other books, I just read them till the end before returning to the library! 🙂

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This is again a post about not a single book,but many! I have been reading so many lately, but very little time to put them down in the blog. 🙂

I found this new author M. L. Malcolm and read her debut novel which is the first one in a series of two books and I read the sequel right after. She was a good find! I mean I have been reading a lot of new authors and not many really hook you up with their style. This author has the makings of a good one. The books are very fast paced and she takes you to the place where the stories are set, takes you through the first world war and what it did to people. The books would appeal to any historical fiction reader. The books are Heart of Lies and Heart of Deception.

Heart of Lies – The protagonist is Leo Hoffman who is a multi-linguist Hungarian National who is extremely smart and can think on his feet. The first book is a beautiful love story between Leo and Martha and their love spans continents when Leo has to move to Shanghai to escape prison, start his life all over. It is just incredible that Martha leave her safety zone and travels all the way to Shanghai to join him. Their love story is woven around the WW I events and Shanghai seems to be a place without borders and where anyone can salvage their life! The author just transports you from Europe to Asia to Shanghai and you feel you are right there with the couple and watch them settle down and Leo getting embroiled in local politics and how he survives and emerges a winner in the end. When the first book ends, you just cant wait to pick up the sequel.

Heart of Deception – The sequel is as un-put-downable as the first one! This ventures into the later years of Leo and how he strives to connect with his daughter who is safe in America. It is not easy for him, as his daughter thinks he abandoned her and blames her for the loss of  The plot is riveting and enjoyable, and you almost feel bad when the book ends and you know there is no more to it.Leo continues to be a spy, working hard to gain entry to America, to be united with his daughter. The life of the spy and the many reasons that motivate them is portrayed beautifully and the rundown of the events in Morocco and North Africa during the WW II is awesome. It transports you to the places and makes you empathize for all those who worked in the ‘enemy’ territory during wars. I can read any number of books based on the world war and still be moved however lame the book may turn out to be. The way it affected people all around the globe is so terrifying and my secret desire is that there is never a WW III in our lifetimes or I should say rather never.. What if I get caught in one in my rebirth? 🙂

This new author is definitely on my watch list so I read her new books!

I have been reading books off the shelves of the library at random these days, looking for interesting reads. One such book that I picked recently that was kind of good was ‘Rich Again’ by Anna Maxted.

Rich Again – The book cover was quite deceptive and I was expecting a chic novel, however it turned out to be a dark mystery novel. I could find in it the likes of Sidney Sheldon mystery – just that the plot here was quite deep and there was a dense story line building up. It talks about a dysfunctional family in which every family member is taunted by a mystery enemy force, no one even realizes that the misgivings they face are from a common enemy!  The climax is quite nail biting involving kids and is quite a fitting end, though it is quite a drama. A very different reading experience in the middle of historical novels!

After finishing this book, I picked up another one of Anna Maxted – Getting over it.

Getting Over it – This book was nothing like Rich Again, totally different, chic-book and completely funny! There was nothing remotely even dark about this. I even had to check if this was by the same author! Anyway here the story line was about a late twenties woman who loses her dad suddenly and how she ‘gets over’ the loss, all the while supporting her mom, even at the cost of ruining her romantic life. She suddenly finds her mom all dependent on her and she finds it quite choking and she has no time to relieve her sadness and seems to be reacting to everything that is happening around her rather than think and act! The mess she makes of her life and how she gets back in control is the book crux. There is a wry humor in every line and would bring a smile to your lips as you read it. It was an enjoyable read though it could have been cut short a bit, there were extensive chapters that you wish would end and the story would move! Anyway two different books from the same author. I am not sure I am ready for another Anna Maxted in the recent future.

The next book I read was so AWESOME and I am sure once I start about that, this post would not end any soon. So I am reserving it for the next post. Anyway the book I am referring to is Shogun by James Clavell.

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