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on September 7, 2013
Behind many novels and movies are real people whose lives were more extraordinary than the fictional accounts of them. Such is the case with William Adams, an Englishman born in the same year as Shakespeare (1564) who apprenticed at age 12 as a seaman, fought the Spanish Armada, sailed to find a Northeast Passage around Arctic Russia, and in 1600 arrived in Japan as part of a Dutch expedition. He is the basis for James Clavell's "Shogun."
By the time other Dutch and Portuguese traders arrived in Japan years later, Adams had learned Japanese and established himself as a respected foreigner in the complex society where he spent the remainder of his life. As author Richard Tames observes, "Success, however, seldom fails to arouse feelings of fear and envy." Again and again, Adams would intercede on behalf of those who came to his adopted country but envied Adams' position.
Tames intersperses quotes from source documents within his narrative, which results in a colorful telling.
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on December 31, 2004
By now, everyone knows there is a true story that inspired the novel SHOGUN--William Adams, the English pilot of a Dutch merchant ship, shipwrecked in Japan in 1600, who gains the favor of the Shogun and is granted samurai status. Given the remoteness in time and distance, you wouldn't expect there to be a significant amount of original source material available on the life and times of William Adams. As it turns out, references include letters home to England in Adams' own hand, log-books of his trading voyages out of Japan and diaries and commercial records of many other Western merchants with whom he had business contacts. There is enough to make an interesting history. Unfortunately, as presented in this volume, the story is torpid and confusing. Despite the author's academic credentials, one is left with the suspicion that this book was hurriedly constructed to capitalize on the novel and miniseries. The subtitle is "The True Story of Shogun's Hero" and the liner notes reference both. The chronology is unclear and the introduction of several quoted secondary characters in the midst of chapters is confusing. There is enough inherent drama in William Adams' history to make the book of some value, but it would be advisable to seek a more readable reference--specifically, William Corr's Adams the Pilot: The Life and Times of Captain William Adams: 1564-1620.
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