Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review: Shōgun: The Epic Novel of Japan

Shōgun: The Epic Novel of Japan (The Asian Saga #1)Shōgun: The Epic Novel of Japan by James Clavell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

James Clavell's classic epic novel Shogun lives up to its reputation. Though only spanning 6 months or so, it truly is epic. The book tells a fictionalized version of the rise of the long ruling Tokugawa shogunate through the eyes (at least in part) of a English pilot who shipwrecks in Japan (and is the first English person to get to Japan--based on the real life account of William Adams). Clavell switches the point of view through out the book, allowing the reader to get different perspectives on the events and motivations of the characters. In particular, by shifting from Blackthorne (the Englishman) to various Japanese characters, one can see how each saw the other. This is especially true early on in the novel, where Blackthorne saw the Japanese as uncaring about life and all too willing to kill, and the Japanese regarded Blackthorne as a barbarian and uncivilized. Through the novel, they grow to appreciate and respect each other's strengths and reconceive what they initially saw as barbaric until more understandable differences of worldview. One of the main themes of the book it the interplay of these differences/oppositions, be it more explicitly religious (between various versions of Catholic, Protestantism, Shintoism, and Buddhism), cultural (food, sexual mores, etc), or views of life and death (seppuku plays a prominent role through out the novel).

The novel shows a lot of how feudal Japan worked, what the values and ideals of the ruling classes where, and how they viewed the rest of the world. I often found myself leaving the book to read up aspects (a battle, a city, a historic individual, etc).

View all my reviews