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Commodore Perry's Minstrel Show (James A. Michener Fiction) Hardcover – March 1, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In 1854, when the U.S. Navy's Commodore Perry sailed into Edo (now Tokyo) with the grand goal of opening Japan to trade, he brought major change and minor entertainment—a black-face minstrel show that amazed and perplexed its audience. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Wiley, shifting perspectives with deft ease, follows two fictional white minstrels, Ace Bledsoe and Ned Clark, as they confront Japanese society, while he subversively engages the reader in a deeply allegorical reading of cultural exchange. Ace and Ned come under the wing of interpreter Manjiro Okubo, whose powerful family is locked in an old clan rivalry. The rivals' plot to kidnap musicians sets off a train of events romantic and tragic, with touches of Keystone Kops: with tantalizing authorial discretion, lovers enjoy one another, villains flash lethal swords, beauty balances bawdy, and rivalries and enmities explode. (Readers need not have read Wiley's PEN/Faulkner Award–winning Soldiers in Hiding, for which this novel is a way-back prequel.) This absorbing and immensely pleasurable book achieves momentum through Wiley's fluid style, the lightness with which he bears his learning, and the vitality and wit with which he brings a vanished world to life. (Mar.)
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"Commodore Perry's Minstrel Show is world-class historical fiction. It takes us to a place, mid-nineteenth-century Japan, that's long ago and far away, and makes it contemporary and intimately familiar. It's a wryly told tale, full of wonders and surprises, written with grace and authority. Richard Wiley is one of the few American novelists with the will and the ability to penetrate a culture not his own with the requisite alacrity and intelligent respect. If there is such a thing as global fiction, Richard Wiley is writing it." (Russell Banks)
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Top Customer Reviews
Who else would write about such an unusual subject? And what makes the book such a pleasure? It has to do with the beauty of the characters and the language, both light as a feather and yet capable of great and sudden strength. I've rarely seen a book with such a texture, bright and dark, comic and serious, distant and close, ridiculous and urgent.
At times I found myself wondering why I became so involved with this odd bunch of characters from the mid 1800's Japan, but generally I was too involved to ask the question. Of course, it's no wonder, since Richard Wiley has lived in, visited, and obviously loved Japan over the years. But what surprised me the most was the book's ability to make me gasp now and again. And to curse the writer for having received, worked for, and developed such a gift.
It's got something for everyone and just beautifully written.