Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Review of #1 Cloud of Sparrows by Takashi Matsuoka

A different Japan
Name of book:  Cloud of Sparrows



Author name:  Takashi Matsuoka



ISBN: 0-440-24085-9



Publisher:  Bantam Dell



Type of book:  Adult, Japan, 19th century, beginnings of white female/asian male relationship?



Year it was published in: 2002 

Summary:

Debut novelist Takashi Matsuoka burst onto the secen with CLOUD OF SPARROWS, a magnificent historical novel that takes us beyond the epic tradition of James Clavell’s Shogun. Set in 1861 Japan, CLOUD OF SPARROWS weaves a tale of passion and adventure, as a small group of American missionaries arrives on the shores of Edo Bay-and enters the strange, exotic world of Genji, Lord of Akaoka. What happens next, between the handsome young nobleman and the two Americans, sets the stage for a remarkable adventure. For as this unlikely band embarks on a journey through a landscape bristling with danger, East and West, flesh and spirit, past and future, collide in an ovel of astounding power and grace…




Characters: In beginning there might be difficulty in following the characters, especially with the names and which one is which along with some qualities or interesting pieces of history, the characters are drawn out very well and tend be unique and distinguishable in terms of their personalities. (That is the reader will remember that Genji is the lord who likes to pretend that he is frivolous when in fact he is very sharp and often makes calculated risks.) What is also good is that the characters retain their unique personalities and I didn't see an instance of when they acted out of character. They also have realistic if harsh views on the outsiders and vice versa and in a lot of instances don't see eye to eye. 



Theme: Personally speaking, I think the author wrote this novel to kind of rebuke or give a different light to Clavell's Asian saga. Maybe because it dealt with Japan and roughly the same time period, perhaps that causes me to think this way. Its kind of hard for me at the moment to think up of a theme, but if comparing it to Clavell, I would say that one theme would be is that the Japanese culture is different than what is believed. I also would say that another theme perhaps will be that Japanese women are ordinary and are not like Clavell's women. As mentioned, while reading this novel, in my head I was comparing it to bits and pieces about James Clavell so I apologize that I cannot come up with more feasible themes. 



Plot: At first the plot was a tad bit boring, but then it quickly gets to the heart of the matter and its hard to let it go. Unfortunately, though, there are some loose holes and luckily, the author wrote a sequel/prequel to the novel called Autumn Bridge (Hadn't read it in its entirety yet, but it does answer some interesting questions about Genji's uncle and grandfather.) I thought the plot was handled well, although I hadn't majored in Japanese history nor culture so I cannot say with surety what is accurate and not accurate, and because of this, a lot of Japanese history flew over my head. 



Author Information: This is from wikipedia: Takashi Matsuoka (born January 10, 1947) is a first-generation Japanese American writer. He lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, United States, and worked at a Zen Buddhist temple before becoming a full-time writer. His books about American missionaries' visits to Japan are often compared to Shōgun and other books by British historical novelist James Clavell. Matsuoka also worked as a writer for the 1990 film Pale Blood.







Opinion: Long time ago, in hopes of learning about Asian culture, I fell upon James Clavell's Asian Saga. I've read about three books I believe, (tried to read Noble House but couldn't because it was too long and boring. I read Tai-pan, Gai-jin and Shogun and felt disgusted by those books, especially of their portrayal of East Asian men, and the fact that he didn't use any relationships of that sort while he freely portrayed Asian women and Caucasian men, using the stereotype of China dolls for the women.  The men basically were losers at the start but then outshone the natives and managed to control them. Contrary to some amazon reviews saying that he was sympathetic to Asian culture I didn't feel that way at all about his books.) But anyways, while I was reading this novel, although I did have difficulty with the character names, I really really enjoyed the novel. The characters have different personalities and there is change to some of them, they were also unpredictable and there are a lot of interesting facts about Japan. I also liked the portrayal of American missionaries on the Japanese soil and the fact that they didn't know anything about the culture. The Asian female characters were also unique and unexpected, for they were clever and loyal, and I also liked how main Japanese character bonded with the American female. Personally speaking, instead of going to Clavell's Asian Saga, give this author a try. This book is not over a thousand pages long and for the most part characters are easy to remember. 



4 out 5

(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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