362 of 376 people found the following review helpful
'Historical' fiction is something of a misnomer, as books placed in this category are almost always fiction first and 'historical' only in time and setting. Shogun, however, comes close to being a true example of this field, detailing the late 16th century exploration and exploitation of the Orient by the Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, and English. As few Americans are aware of some of the atrocities and cruelties committed in the name of crown and religion during this period, some of the scenes depicted in this book may come as shock. But they provide an excellent background portrait of the European mind-set of those times, a palette that Clavell uses to contrast and define the extraordinarily different culture of the Japan of that time.
And it is his portrait of the Japanese, his lovingly detailed characterizations of Toranaga, Mariko, Omi and their deeply intertwined interactions with the English pilot Blackthorne that defines and breathes life into this breathtakingly large and complex story of love, war, and political intrigue. And these characters are not static. Each grows and changes as events unfold, most especially Blackthorne himself, growing from a totally self-centered 'barbarian' of unclean habits to a person who can appreciate the beauty, intelligence, and moral rectitude of others, who comes to care deeply for those around him, who comes to understand a philosophy of life totally different from that of his own culture. The reader will eventually take each of these characters into his heart, will live right along with them and their problems, cares, successes, and failures, until they are almost more real than the mundane world the reader inhabits.
Is this book totally historically accurate? No, but it doesn't really need to be. It is a fictional account of one of the defining moments of Japanese history, with all the requirements of a work of fiction, written for an American audience, and certain items have yielded to literary license to make the story more approachable by the reader. Certainly Toranaga would not have played chess, but would American readers have understood 'Go' as metaphor for Toranaga's deep political machinations? As a story, a tale of high adventure, as a hard look at alternative life philosophies, as an exposition of a very exotic time, place, and culture, this work succeeds on almost every level. This is an excellent read that will expand your horizons and enrich your life, entertain you and satisfy your inner craving for something different from the every-day world of today.
111 of 128 people found the following review helpful
"Very few men are wise-most are sinners and great evil happens on earth in gods name. But not of god. This world is vale of tears and only a preparation for the everlasting peace."-James Clavell, page 1085, Shogun.
For some reason this statement, made by Japanese christen monk perfectly sums up the awesome book that is shogun. I don't mean awesome in the sense of "dude, that was awesome", I mean it in the sense that this book is awe inspiring, mind blowing and devastatingly emotional and good.
This is a book about a man named John Blackthorn, English pilot of the Dutch ship Erasmus who was washed ashore with what was left of his crew in the small Japanese village of Anjiro. His tale is amazing, for Blackthorn will become the man who brings Japan into the 17th century, introduces them to guns, and totally decimates the Portuguese Jesuit hold over Japan. None of this sounds good of course, but that's because this book isn't really about Blackthorn.
I've always avoided Asian fiction and history, so I have no idea how accurate this book is. But, even if it's all total hooey, this book is amazing. It brings to life the Japan of flying cherry petals, green bamboo, samurai honor and wild mountain peaks. This is a book about honor and love and crossing cultural boundaries. It's a book about duty and karma and everything that is noble in life.
Written in the style of Michener, only with more emotion, I can only say that this is one of the best books I have ever read. It's so good in fact, that I don't think I can ever read it again. It's a devastating emotional and draining experience to read this book, and if you can truly accept the feeling of honor and duty and courage and beauty that permeates every word that Clavell writes, I promise this book will, if not totally change your life, at least change your outlook on it.
I haven't stopped crying since finishing the book 20 minutes ago, and to be honest I don't want too. I truly feel to have left a world behind, along with true people whose honesty and courage were as true as the landscape of Japan itself. The people in this book do not appear to be friends; they are as much a part of me as they would be a part of any reader who can really allow the book to work its magic on them.
I really wish there was a rating above five stars.
57 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 1999
For sheer narrative power and immersion in another world, few have done it better than Clavell in Shogun. The book grabs you from the first page and never seems to let go. It's an easy read, too, since you barely notice you're reading. (I read it in three days back in the seventies, hardly stopping for air, and have needed bifocals with reading lenses ever since.) Still the book has some unfortunate blunders including an allusion to a samurai using judo (not invented until the 1880's, while this book takes place in the 16th century) and another shaking off his sandals to kick at an enemy (quite out of character for such warriors since they were predominantly weaponed soldiers who would never choose to kick an enemy if they had access to one of their traditional instruments of war; besides so-called karate kicking wasn't introduced into Japan, from Okinawa, until the 1920's). The worst error, I thought, had Lord Toranaga playing chess, a western game, when it would have made more sense for him to be playing the indigenous Japanese game of go instead. But the Japanese warriors did have jiu-jitsu, the forerunner of judo, and kicking could have been a part of what they did (however unlikely) and Toronaga could have taught himself chess since he is portrayed as a quick study with a keen and very deep mind. And besides, these are minor quibbles. Basically, this is a powerful tale of intrigue and maneuvering as the players move about on the chessboard of feudal Japan, never certain who among them is really moving the pieces and who is just being moved -- at least until the end. The sense and feel of the culture, if not the details, also ring remarkably true and you do feel as though you've lived the entire experience when at last you close the book on the final page. And the characters, as the reviews following mine point out, are also based on real people; the events on things that really occurred -- though Clavell granted himself literary license to manipulate and recast what he found in the histories to make his tale a more dramatic one. It's not a true story in that sense, but it's a great one and well worth a pair of glasses. -- Stuart W. Mirsky
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2004
I've read between 200 and 300 books in my life and I only remember a handful of them. This book has been filed into my perminant databank. Every time I see Shogun in a store or hear someone talking about it, my heart leaps. When first picking up the book a common thought is "My GOD! It's two-thousand pages!" but as soon as you start reading it you wish it was three-thousand. Better yet, four-thousand...no, five-thousand...At any rate. It's hard to hate any of the charectors in this book, they are all explained thouroughly, all with their own vices and clever. And clever is the word! All of the 'people of power' have the very real and necissary cleverness that just leaves you aghast. Few books truely touch people and stay with them forever, but Shogun will be a part of ever reader forever. I laughed, I cried, I was so gosh darned glad it was part of a series =)
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2004
Many of us loathe the lengthy historical novels that grace the shelves of book stores today, intimidated by their size and impending substance. My fascination with Japanese culture, samurai and the orient, coupled with a recent trip to 'The Last Samurai' drove me to the nearest bookshop in search of something to quench my thirst for enlightenment. Clavell's novels, being classics and well acclaimed, caught my attention and I turned to Shogun for a challenging read.
Not since Lord of the Rings have I become so involved in a story, often staying awake until midnight to comfortably conclude a chapter or missing one or two meals to find out how another one of the Characters dilemma's was solved. Shoguns roller-coaster of action, adventure, romance and history culminated in a saga that entangles itself in your mind. All the characters display their unique personalities, traits, vices and virtues. Blackthorne, the typical 17th century english 'Sea Dog' is civilized by Japan through the beautiful and lovely Mariko, the cunning, masterful and lovable Lord Toranaga and the rest of the gang.
Historically the book keeps on the tracks, changing a couple of names along the way (Eg: Tokugawa > Toranaga) however there really was a war involving Tokugawa for the shogunate which he won, defeating the armies that stood in his way left behind after the 'Taiko' died. There was also a 'Goroda' dictator figure who ruled and was really assasinated, but the story of an english pilot landing in Japan, and developing a relationship with the most powerful daimyo in the land is all fiction.
The triumph came for me when i realized how much this book puts The Last Samurai to shame, and only on completion of the novel did I realise what a pathetic and inaccurate interpretation of Japanese culture the movie really is, forgetting it hopeless story and personality crippled characters.
Unchallenged still, Shogun remains the pinnacle of english literature on Japan (Story Based Anyway) with its twists and turns, you become engrossed in the story, secretly (in your heart) rooting for the characters you like. By the end of this novel I found myself thinking like a samurai, after all it is all down to karma, neh? And would recommend the book to anyone of open mind and possessing an appreciation for great literature!
Can't wait to read Gai-Jin and Tai-Pan!!!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2006
I enjoyed this novel. I could hardly put it down. The story is deep, captivating, exotic, sometimes visceral, and even perhaps erotic.
The problem that I found with the book is the ending. I do not wish to spoil it for anyone, but it's a "non-event". It's as if Clavell just decided after 1600 pages of writing that he was done. Everything that the story builds to is summed up in a paragraph on the last page. I felt quite unfulfilled by it all until I reflected on the rest of the novel.
That's when I realized the trick: Clever boy! What you assume the main story to be is not the main story at all. It's the journey. It's the life, and death, of the characters. It's the feelings, desires, and devastations... That's the story. It's really quite brilliant.
Therefore, based on upon that realization I would highly recommend this book to readers (Ages 18 and up, due to some of the content).
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2001
I remember back in the summer of 76 my father was very ill. He spent most of that summer in the hospital and my mother bought him dozens of books to read - cable was still in it's infancy and VCR's were few and far between. She focused on buying big thick books and Shogun was one of these books. I was nine years old at the time and utterly fascinated by it's thickness. When the mini-series aired four years later I watched all of it with my parents. I remember the plot being complicated and difficult to follow, but I did enjoy the overall atmosphere and ,of course, the many action scenes. I especially liked the Ninja sequence.
Now, over twenty years later, I've finally read the novel and enjoyed it tremendously. It's fast moving, engrossing and exciting. It does exactly what the best of this genere should do. It takes you away and makes you feel as if you're actually in another time and place. What more can one ask?
And yet I couldn't help noticing some of the other reviewers critiques of Calvell's incorrect use of Japanese words, expressions etc.The fictionalizing of historical personas, incorrect depections of various martial arts, and just his overall depiction of old Japan. So in defense of the late Mr. Clavell I'm going to address some of these points. First of all Mr. Clavell began writing Hollywood screenplays back in the fifties. You can see his name in the credits for Gunfight at the OK Corral with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. In his day fictional authors created thinly disguised fictional characters in place of the actual people and events. It was considered tactless to write a work of fiction with actual persons interacting with fictional protaganists. Mr.CLavell did just this when he wrote Shogun. When looked at in these terms it makes sense. As far as the arrogance of his changing of Japanese history and comparing it to a foreign film in which the name of George Washington is changed......well there have been foreign films made in the past which have "messed" with our history. A good example would have to be the Sergio Leone westerns, but there are others. Like it or not, Clavell wasn't writing for a Japanese audience. His book was for readers that knew pratically nothing about pre-Tokugawa Japan.I have to say this is one reason why he has his characters using Judo and other modern martial arts. The average American in 1975 had heard of Judo, but I doubt they knew what jijitsu and others were. For those readers with truly curious natures I don't doubt they went on and learned more on their own. Never forget that this is a work of fiction first and formost.
Does Clavell engage in some idolization of Japanese culture? Yes. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Clavell was a man who admired Asia. Writers have the privlige of putting their worldview into their work and Clavell does just that in Shogun.This is one reason why I've grown tired of reading fiction. But, in Shogun, I didn't find it overbearing and tiresome. This is a skillfully written piece of popular fiction, deserving of it's rating. It isn't a coincidence this book is still in print after twenty-five years or that the mini-series is available. To read this book and others like it one needs to check one's self-importance at the door and go in with a easy going attitude.
Believe me I know. I used to be soldier and now I'm a cop. If I allowed myself to be infuriated over all the innaccuracies that I constantly catch in books and movies about cops and soldiers I'd never be able to enjoy anything. So relax and enjoy. It's lots of fun, and what more can one ask for?
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 1997
For sheer narrative power and immersion in another world, few have done it better than Clavell in Shogun. The book grabs you from the first page and never seems to let go. It's an easy read, too, since you barely notice you're reading. (I read it in three days back in the seventies, hardly stopping for air, and have needed bifocals with reading lenses ever since.) Still the book has some unfortunate blunders including an allusion to a samurai using judo (not invented until the 1880's, while this book takes place in the 16th century) and another shaking off his sandals to kick at an enemy (quite out of character for such warriors since they were predominantly weaponed soldiers who would never choose to kick an enemy if they had access to one of their traditional instruments of war; besides so-called karate kicking wasn't introduced into Japan, from Okinawa, until the 1920's). The worst error, I thought, had Lord Toranaga playing chess, a western game, when it would have made more sense for him to be playing the indigenous Japanese game of go instead. But the Japanese warriors did have jiu-jitsu, the forerunner of judo, and kicking could have been a part of what they did (however unlikely) and Toronaga could have taught himself chess since he is portrayed as a quick study with a keen and very deep mind. And besides, these are minor quibbles. Basically, this is a powerful tale of intrigue and maneuvering as the players move about on the chessboard of feudal Japan, never certain who among them is really moving the pieces and who is just being moved -- at least until the end. The sense and feel of the culture, if not the details, also ring remarkably true and you do feel as though you've lived the entire experience when at last you close the book on the final page. And the characters, as the reviews following mine point out, are also based on real people; the events on things that really occurred -- though Clavell granted himself literary license to manipulate and recast what he found in the histories to make his tale a more dramatic one. It's not a true story in that sense, but it's a great one and well worth a pair of glasses. -- Stuart W. Mirsk
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2005
I've never had any particular desire to read anything by James Clavell. But one day I was in the bookstore, I decided it had been a long time since I had read a lengthy epic novel, and figured what the heck. The reputation "Shogun" carries certainly didn't hurt.
By and large, the reputation is deserved. "Shogun" is on the whole a wonderful book. Clavell, while perhaps not a "great" writer, is an extremely good one. He has a strong sense for description, dialogue, and characterization, which make the 1152 pages go by quite quickly and enjoyably.
John Blackthorne, an English sailor, manages to bring his ship to 1600 AD Japan. Almost immediately, Blackthorne finds himself in conflict with the precarious Japanese government, the alien Japanese society, and the jealously influential Portugese traders and mercenaries who have staked a claim. In order to survive, Blackthorne must adopt elements of Japanese culture, while making himself valuable to Toranaga, the most powerful daiymo of Japan.
While Clavell took the plot of his novel from history, he also fictionalized quite a bit. Nearly every major character in the novel is based on a historical person. Toranaga is in fact Tokugawa, whose family took control of the shogunate, and with it control of Japan, for nearly 300 years. Blackthorne is loosely based on William Adams, who helped open up Japan to greater foreign trade. I'm not sure why Clavell took this approach, and for a little while, it's a bit of a distraction.
Clavell's greatest strength is examining the various political games the protagonists play. Toranaga knows early on he is going to be a war with various rivals among the Council of Regents, and Blackthorne's arrival becomes an immediate benefit to Torananga's plans. Blackthorne finds himself raging at the xenophobic elements of Japanese society that view him as a barbarian, while fending off the Portuguese attempts to capture or kill him. He also falls in love with Mariko, a woman who is descended from an honorable samurai family, but who is also a Christian convert. Mariko herself is torn between her duty to her country and her liege lord, Toranaga, and her newly adopted faith, while reciprocating Blackthorne's love.
Blackthorne's transformation from English "barbarian" into a "civilized" samurai is one of the most interesting and realistic progressions in fiction. The change in the Anjin-san (as Blackthorne is called) is a gradual thing, as Blackthorne struggles with the language barrier and customs, coming to accept the better elements of the Japanese society, while becoming more disenchanted with his own heritage. But at the same time he clings to the possibility of returning to England, covered in gold and glory for opening the door to the east for his native land. He never quite realizes that only one route is truly open to him.
My only complaint is that I never felt completely connected to the characters. While I did like them, I was surprised that upon the deaths of a few major characters, I was not as emotionally impacted as in other fictional works (Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" was always heartbreaking, for example). There were also times that I wondered if every conversation about scheming and political maneuvering was necessary. I was also irritated by Clavell's occasional use of minor characters as a means of moving the plot forward. For example, the wife of the villainous Yabu figures out very quickly certain hows and whys of Toranaga's plans. She never appears after this Lady Macbeth-moment, and really, the book only moves forward marginally. Also, I have to say, I would have liked to see the war proper. Clavell actually recounts this entire event in a couple of paragraphs on the last page of the book. Considering the whole novel has been leading up to this war, I felt a little frustrated.
However, none of these complaints really overshadowed my enjoyment of this novel, or my rating. I will certainly be reading the rest of Clavell's "Asian Saga", though not right away.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
James Clavell's Shogun may be his most famous work, and it is likewise his best as it presents a marvelous cross-cultural tale of adventure and intrigue in pseudo-historical 17th century Japan.
The true artfulness of the story is carried off by the use of Blackthorn, the English navigator of a Dutch ship wrecked in Japan amidst a period of intense political turmoil. Although indeed based loosely upon the real-life figure William Adams, Blackthorn's importance to the story is to present a western viewpoint into the all-too-alien Japanese culture, and as Blackthorn becomes Anjin-san and ever more accustomed to his new life, so do we as the reader find ourselves increasingly immersed and drawn into that culture.
The cast of characters truly suits the epic scope of the novel's story, and most are well-drawn, complex, and interesting (though at times some of the minor characters may seem added as an afterthought). Shogun-to-be Lord Toranaga makes for an excellent impeneterable genius manipulating everyone like a master puppeteer, and Lady Mariko similarly offers an intriguing character that the reader comes to care for.
The fact that Clavell spent years in a Japanese POW camp under the harshest of conditions during World War II (something like only 1 in 15 men survived) makes his portrait of Japan all the more remarkable, for he is able to portray the harsh and often alien life of 17th century samurai-laden Japan in a way that not only makes sense to the reader but that is appealing in the most romantic of ways to a degree far greater than that of Western society of the same period.
I suggest this book heartily to any fan of historical fiction and particularly to those with an interest in Japan.