Saturday, December 26, 2015

G422 Book Review of The Heike Story by Eiji Yoshikawa

Name of Book: The Heike Story

Author: Eiji Yoshikawa

ISBN: 978-4-8053-1044-1

Publisher: Tuttle

Type of book: Japan, Genji and Heike clans, warfare, clashes, 1135-1174, rags-to-riches story, Emperor, Kyoto, secrets, translation

Year it was published: 1956 (translation 1989)

Summary:

Kyoto in the twelfth century was a magnificent city, but crime, disorder, and lust were rampant. The people were abused by the nobility, while the armed Buddhist monks terrorized court and commoner alike. In despair, the Emperor called upon the Heike and Genji clans to quell civil disturbances. Although the clans succeeded, they quarreled over the spoils of war and plunged the country into a century of warfare.

This novel describes the rise to power of Kiyomori of the Heike clan during this turbulent time. From a youth sunk in poverty, Kiyomori eventually rose to become the Emperor's Chief Councillor. Although he was a gentle, enlightened man, he left a trail of bloodshed and ruin in his wake. The strange twists of Kiyomori's fate are the core of this epic novel.

The Heike Story is a modern translation of a Japanese classic. Its exotic atmosphere, narrative power, pageantry, and poetry will enthrall English readers and provide an entertaining introduction to an important source of Japanese culture.

Characters:

I'm sorry to say but I can barely remember any characters or anything specific about them. I recall Kiyomori who was in charge and had to make a lot of tough decisions in relation to rivals and others; then there's a guy who coveted another's wife, also there is a loyal musician who becomes a doctor and continues to be loyal no matter the circumstances. There is also Kiyomori's mother who cares more for herself than for her children, but she doesn't really play a big role in the story.

Theme:

Its possible to have rags-to-riches story

Plot:

The story seems to be from a lot of people's points of view, but the primary character is Kiyomori. Others, unfortunately, I had trouble remembering who's who in the story, and there really wasn't a character sheet to help me out, which I found a bit odd because a lot of Asian classics contain character sheets. I also think that the strongest point in the story is the beginning when the reader gets a glimpse of Kiyomori's family situation, but a bit afterwards the story isn't as connected as I had hoped and maybe its me, but I was and am pretty lost on a lot of plot points, such as the purpose of Kiyomori and his mother.

Author Information:
(From back of the book)

Eiji Yoshikawa: (1892-1962) was born in Kanagawa. Although he received little more than a primary education, in his lifetime he authored some 80 novels and over 180 short stories. Among his best-selling novels are Musashi, Way of the Samurai, and The Heike Story. Credited with greatly elevating popular fiction, Yoshikawa was the first writer of such work to be awared the Order of Culture.

Davinder Bhowmik is an Associate Professor at the University of Washington, specializing in modern Japanese literature, Okinawan fiction, and the Japanese language. She is the author of Writing Okinanwa: Narrative Acts of Identity and Resistance.

Opinion:

In beginning I really enjoyed the story and the unfolding history of Japan in late 12th century. For awhile the story seemed to be well put together and flowed smoothly. However, that feeling didn't last. Perhaps because of the sections that the author decided to skip and leave untranslated, I feel that a lot that was vital for charting character growth and the plot was left out. The translation is pretty good and easy to read and should appeal to contemporary audience who have fascination with history of Japan, but I guess the flow of the story was lost in the translation, and the time jumps didn't really help me out with getting to know characters. Also as well, I would have liked it if a character list was included in the book as well as their basic roles because I have to say that a lot of times I kind of kept getting lost with who's who in the story and their function. Strong beginning but weak middle and ending in my opinion.

This was given by Tuttle Publishing for an honest review

2 out of 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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