Sunday, December 27, 2015

G451 Book Review of The Taiheiki: A chronicle of Medieval Japan by Helen Craig McCullough

Name of Book: The Taiheiki A Chronicle of Medieval Japan

Author: Anonymous (Helen McCullough translated)

ISBN: 978-0-8048-3538-1

Publisher: Tuttle

Type of book: Japan, samurai, fights, origins of customs, loyalty, record, historical record, 1300s, suicide, murders, wars

Year it was published: 1956 was published in 1300s originally (2004)

Summary:

An epic saga of samurai warfare in medieval Japan

This celebrated literary classic has delighted generations of Japanese. In its pages, you will find a vivid contemporary description of the fourteenth-century intrigues and battles that led to the destruction of the Hojo family, the military overlords of the nation, and made it possible for the Emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339), one of Japan's most remarkable sovereigns, to reassert the power of the throne. Go-Daigo's first hesitant attempts to overthrow the Hojo, the early defeats suffered by his supporters, his dethronement and exile, the legendary exploits of his generals, the growing strength of his arms, and his ultimate return to the throne are all recounted in engrossing detail.

The anonymous authors of The Taiheiki diversify their narrative through skillful use of the rich treasure house of the Chinese dynastic histories, the verse of the Six Dynasties and T'ang, and the Confucian teachings underlying the strict warrior code of loyalty and filial piety. They write with a deep sense of the inevitability of karma—determined fate and the impermanence of man and his works—but the spirit of the age is reflected in their praise of valor and military prowess, their taste for descriptions of the trappings of war, and their frequent irreverent asides. Considered a part of the gunki monogatari, or war tales canon in Japan, The Taiheiki celebrates martial adventure and can be seen as a prose counterpart to the Homeric epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Characters:

Aside from names not much is known about the men that sacrificed themselves for the cause. I would guess this is something that fans of The Song of Roland, Beowulf, The Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, and Conquest of Constantinople by Geffroy de Villehardouin. I'm honestly not sure what to mention when it comes to characters.

Theme:

No idea what it should have been

Plot:

I think its told in third person narrative and is omniscient rather than limited. The book does read chronologically, but other than that and the origin stories of some interesting customs in Japan, I feel that I got very little out of it, and a lot of times I was confused. I honestly think that a focus on one or two characters would have helped make this an interesting history, but the author or authors are expecting the readers to know who they're talking about, and I doubt that many know whom the author is talking about.

Author Information:
(From back of the book)

Helen Craig McCullough (1918-1998), Professor Emeritus of Oriental Languages at the University of California, Berkley, was a native Californian who received her doctoral degree from Berkeley and spent most of her working life there. An eminent scholar of classical Japanese poetry and prose, her publications included eleven highly acclaimed volumes of studies and translations. Her honors included several visiting professorships and a MEdal of Honor from the Japanese government in 1996.

Opinion:

Love The Song of Roland as well as Beowulf? This is a right book for that type of reader. As for me, I honest to gods didn't like The Song of Roland, and Beowulf? Very boring, confusing and it was against mothers who are devoted to sons, and yes, I've read both a very long time ago. Okay, what exactly were mine issues with it? I'm not sure what the book was trying to be; either a historical record or a narrative, but if it was a narrative, it had a really bad storytelling element. As for historical record, I read that a number of things was discovered that seemed to disprove the story. Translation was all right, but the story itself was bad. For one too many characters that honestly had little to no purpose, there also were endless battles, suicides and murders. One thing that I did enjoy about the book is the origins of some of the things that Japan had done and where they came from. Those stories alone were worth reading the book.

This was given by Tuttle for an honest review

1 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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