title: Shōgun

author: James Clavell

genre: Fiction, Japan, samurai, honor, foreign

suggested by: Will F.

dates read: August 29th – September 16th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: John Blackthorne “Anjin-san,” is the English Pilot-Major of Erasmus, trying to get to the Strait of Magellan and reach Japan.   Originally part of a fleet of five, the Erasmus is the last to survive, and she is barely hanging on. With little to no fruit on board, the crew is suffering from scurvy and are quickly dying off. They find themselves in the midst of a storm, afraid they’ll never make it. By some miracle they do make it to land and reach their intended destination, Japan. After nearly being killed, Blackthrone is seen as an asset for the Japanese to learn about European culture and so is kept alive, while his crew is used to bargain for his good behavior. Eventually, he becomes entangled in the complicated politics of the feudal lords and becomes an important pawn in their game of power. As he learns more about the culture and learns the language, he becomes less a “barbarian” and is seen has a respectable individual to the Japanese.   His ultimate goal is to return home, but will his importance allow him that freedom?

personal thoughts: This was a looong read, over 1,100 pages. It was fascinating to read about the Japanese culture in a different way.   I did feel that it was a little slow, I didn’t enjoy the political parts as much as the rest. Overall, it was very well done. I loved the style of writing, it was all in third-person, but Clavell would sometimes show what characters were really thinking, often different from what was being said. This is very typical of Japan, that a person will say one thing and think something very different. It’s very important to “save face” and to not disturb wa, the harmony that permeates all life. In this, Clavell did an excellent job.

favorite quotes:
“While he had sat and fumed alone and tried to sharpen his brain, the sun bent down and drove the sea mists away.” p. 98

“The door at the far end shivered open.” p. 167

“He had long since discovered that peaceful sleep could provide the answer to most puzzles, and if not, what did it really matter? Wasn’t life just a dewdrop within a dewdrop?” p. 173

“Threads of dawn were mixed with the eastern dark.” p. 230

“’We have a saying that time has no single measure, that time can be like frost or lightning or a tear or siege or storm or sunset, or even like a rock.” p. 293

“The wind veered slightly and a cloud reached for the nimbus of the moon, rain not far off and dawn streaking the sky.” p. 364

“he could hardly see her circling there, riding the thermals so gloriously, and he wished, achingly, that he too could ride the empyrean, away from the iniquities of the earth.” p. 502


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