“A bold English adventurer. An invincible Japanese warlord. A beautiful woman torn between two ways of life. All brought together in an extraordinary saga of a time and place aflame with conflict, passion, ambition, lust, and the struggle for power…”
Shogun is a great book which reads in weeks even though it has 1152 pages. Yes, that’s a four digit number: 1152. However it’s amazing how fast it reads. So much so that I am writing my first book review on this blog about Shogun.
Shogun is set in the 16th century. It loosely follows the life of the Englishman Blackthorne who sets sail together with a crew of Dutch on an adventure. Their objective: find a route across America to get to Asia. Not that the Spanish Empire had not done that already. However the routes were kept secretly by the Spanish Empire so as to keep the monopoly of the trade route. After some shenanigans, Blackthorne finds himself in the possession of a pilot’s book describing such routes, and so departs with his crew to Asia.
The story quickly fast forwards to Blackthorne and his crew crashing into Japan and finding themselves captive. And so the story goes on to describe how Blackthorne has not only to convince the Japanese that he is an ally and a valuable asset, but also to fight through a Feudal Japan already being evangelized into catholicism by Spanish and Portuguese monks. In particular Jesuit monks who thought Dutch and English Protestant were devil worshipers. Blackthorne’s struggle to free himself comes entangled with Toranaga, the warlord who captured him. As Toranaga’s rule becomes endangered by volatile Japanese politics, so does Blackthorne’s chances to escape alive.
The book is awesome at describing the status quo of the time. Writing a story in feudal Japan is not an easy task. A society governed by a military class, the Samurai, with a war-prone disposition and a life-disregarding mentality can get complicated. Add to it the entrance of Catholicism to Japan, the Jesuit secret agendas, the fight between Protestants and Catholics, and the trade dependence of the Japanese with the Spanish… Gives a never ending historical mosaic to the story which gets interest by the page.
The book also presents baroquesque characters. A mixture of great psychological portraying with historical accuracy, each character in the story is its own interesting world. For example Lord Toranaga, a governor of vast lands and one of the 5 military rulers in Japan. The genius about this character is that Clavell manages to introduce brilliant power plays and deceits achieved by Toranaga to fool everyone and out-trick his enemies. Akin to the Sherlock Holmes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Toranaga portrays a cunning mind which is not only interesting and appealing, but also enlightening to the reader. On top of that he adds customary Japanese ruthlessness, impeccable discipline and military wisdom. The end result is a very peculiar depiction of a historical character which keeps the reader on the edge waiting to see how the character will sneak out of the impending trap.
To finish off this review, I must talk about the cultural clashes described in Shogun. The author gives us the experience of Blackthorne, the main character, as he becomes acquainted with the Japanese culture of the 16th century. Reading about Blackthorne’s experience of the Japanese culture is striking and interesting at the same time. The story runs along a clash of two culture where each one thinks the other one is uncivilized. The Japanese disregard for life and incredibly strict discipline was irreproachable to the Europeans. However the European extreme dirtiness, lack of hierarchy and almost non-existent medicine did the analogous for the Japanese. This encounter of cultures is possibly one of the biggest ones in human history. The way Clavell manages to portray it while keeping an exciting story is very very good.
In conclusion, this book will certainly be appealing to any history lovers out there. However anyone looking to read an adventure will not be disappointed. In my personal experience, I bumped into this book while searching for good books to learn English vocabulary. Back then I thought that 1152 pages of good fictional story-telling would do the trick. Turned out I wasn’t wrong!
For all this I amply recommend this book! Happy reading!
Author: Andres Paez
Tech’er, writer, programmer, life enthusiast.