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Cloud of Sparrows Kindle Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews

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Length: 432 pages Word Wise: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews Review

Following in the substantial footsteps of filmmaker Akiro Kurosawa and Shogun author James Clavell is Takashi Matsuoka, whose action-packed debut novel, Cloud of Sparrows, unfolds as the age of the samurai warrior starts to wane. The year is 1861, and Lord Genji of Akaoka, last in line of the Okamichi clan, welcomes missionaries Emily, Matthew, and Zephaniah to Japan. Cut off from the West for more than 2,000 years, Japan is as completely unprepared for these outsiders as the missionaries are for geishas and honor killings. Genji, his geisha love Heiko, and the missionaries suddenly find themselves in the middle of several nefarious plots to overthrow the Okamichi leader from as far away as the shogun's palace and as close as Genji's own henchmen. Genji and his visitors journey together across treacherous terrain to seek refuge at the faraway Cloud of Sparrows palace. Although it's a rip-roaring yarn full of ambushes, swordfights, cross-cultural friction, love, and prophetic visions, the book does read a bit like a screenplay, cutting quickly from one scene to another. But the frequent shifts in the story's tempo succeed in making the novel all the more vivid, allowing simultaneous action and contemplation to deepen the story and its inhabitants. --Emily Russin

From Publishers Weekly

Matsuoka's ambitious first novel is an epic saga of clashing personalities and ideologies in the tradition of Shogun, yet it distinguishes itself from its wide-eyed predecessor with a grimmer perspective on Japan's military culture. Set in Edo in 1861, the book chronicles the arrival of a group of American missionaries (two men and a woman, each hiding secrets) into a land bristling with feudal clans nursing ancient grudges and a central shogunate trying to maintain control in the face of corrosive Western influences (like Christianity). The young Lord Genji, a modern heir to the embittered Okumichi clan and its rulers' gift of prophetic vision, receives the missionaries as his guests. Their visit coincides with an effort by the Shogun's secret-police chief to destroy Genji, which leads to the accidental killing of one of the missionaries. In response, Genji, his mad uncle Shigeru (tortured with visions of "swarms of metallic insects," which presage the devastation of WWII), and Genji's lover, the devastatingly beautiful geisha Heiko, join forces with innocent American missionary Emily Gibson and Matt Stark, also an American, who is hiding under the mission's aegis while he hunts down a man who wronged him long ago, to stave off the imperial assassins and restore the honor of the clan. The novel boasts plenty of Edo-era pomp and pageantry, as well as some nicely convoluted court intrigue and lightly handled romance. But the author's central message appears to be a rebuke of the narrow-mindedness of the isolationist feudal tradition in Japan and its bloody track record: "It is our duty to ensure that all looting, murdering, and enslaving in Japan is done by us alone. Otherwise, how can we call ourselves Great Lords?"
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 698 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0099441586
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; 1st edition (October 1, 2002)
  • Publication Date: October 1, 2002
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,697 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Cloud of Sparrows" is Takashi Matsuoka's first novel, an ambitious tale set in Japan in the 1860's, as the country is being forcibly opened by "outsiders" and the era of the Shogun and samurai moves toward an end.

The plot involves a trio of American missionaries who go to Japan to set up their church, and the fate of the Tokumichi samurai clan from Akaoka.

The central character is Lord Genji, a minor lord and somewhat of a dilletante of a samurai, more concerned with poetry and lovemaking than swordsmanship. He also happens to have the family curse of seeing visions of the future.

The story of full of plots within plots, characters who are more than they appear to be, and plenty of action. There is subterfuge, counter-plotting, revenge and romance.

In addition to Genji, the other primary characters are Heiko, the most lovely geisha in all Japan, Emily, a beautiful young American perceived as ugly in Japan, and Matthew Stark, a gunfighter seeking revenge on a man who has fled to Japan and become a Buddhist monk. Important sub-characters include Genji's uncle Shigeru, who has horrific visions of a WWII era and overpopulated future Japan. There are also a trio of Genji's captains, Saiki, Kudo and Sohaku, who may or may not be plotting against their lord. Throw in the treacherous Kawakami, the Shogun's chief of secret police, as well as Kuma the Bear, the deadliest ninja in Japan, and Genji has plenty of antagonists.

The story was intriguing, and the plot moved along quickly, with rarely a dull moment. It's a page-turning read. I enjoyed the comparison/contrast of Japan and outside cultures, and Matsuoka went to considerable detail on clothing.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
If you've read some of my other reviews (Silent Honor, The Salaryman's Wife) you'll know that I have a short tolerance for people who write about Japan without actually knowing much about the culture. Thankfully, Matsuoka does not fall into this category. Of course, no one alive today has first-hand experience with shogun-era Japan, but Matsuoka doesn't make the mistake of giving western characters Japanese names and then hoping no one will notice. His Japanese are Japanese, his westerners are western, and the whole story flows easily back and forth between the two cultural viewpoints. Other people have summarized the plot, so I'll just say that the story had pretty much everything in it, from large-scale warfare to individual humor. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get an idea of how the Japanese mind works, as well as anyone who just wants to read a good story.
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Format: Hardcover
"Cloud of Sparrows," the first novel from Takashi Matsuoka, spins a complex yarn set in 1861 Japan -- this is a classic East Meets West tale, but it is told with brutal clarity and riveting poetry that sets it apart from more mundane works.

While Matsuoka's characters are initially bound by their rigid perceptions of each other (the Japanese see Westerners as uncivilized oafs while the Westerners see the Japanese as heathen wretches crying out for salvation), Matsuoka uses flashbacks and current crises to highlight the underlying similarities between the two cultures. Both groups, Japanese and American, are capable of and commit acts of horrifying barbarity as well as acts of exquisite kindness. Revenge and honor motivate both groups, as well -- the goals are merely pursued in different ways.

The story focuses on the rise of Lord Genji, a Japanese Prince Hal character (who apparently served as his own Falstaff) who must overcome his playboy reputation and lead his clan to victory. The victory he seeks is the conclusion of the Battle of Sekigahara, which was fought over 250 years ago. Lord Genji, cursed and blessed with the gift of prophecy, knows that the balance of Japanese history will be determined by these Westerners, with their lethal machinery and perpetual focus on the future. Japan, as Genji sees it, has cursed itself with its dedication to tradition, honor, and ritualism. And so Genji seeks out the company of the new arrivals, three American missionaries who will each affect the history of Japan in their own way.

Two of the three Americans are characters for the ages. Emily Gibson is a beautiful missionary who has fled to Japan hoping that the Japanese will see her as ugly, since her beauty has only caused her misery back in America.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very good first novel, and I am highly impressed by that fact. That many people compare this to "Shogun" is utter nonesense and foolishness. One does not compare all fantasy with Lord of the Rings, for the simple reason that it is and always will be the unrivaled master. So too is the case with Shogun, which is the greatest epic novel of Japan ever written. Cloud of Sparrows stands proudly and strongly on its own. The characters are well fleshed out, and I found myself caring about them far more than in most books I read. The plot is not complex, but is told in a way so as to be intricate and filled with surprises. It's the telling of the tale that is most captivating. Some have said that its weak selling is a sign of a bad novel, well, let us not forget that Edgar Allen Poe died penniless and alone, but it is hard to argue that his stories were weak by any stretch of the imagination. Do not let petty popularity contests steer you from what is an excellent tale of love, tragedy, betrayal, vengeance, redemption and most of all...HONOR.
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