Book: Shogun


1152 pages. Yep. That there is a big ol’ book.

But so worth it. I never thought I would have loved this big huge grandpa-style (James Michener-esque) book, but I did. It was recommended on a UC Berkeley summer reading list for lit students, so I figured I would give it a try. I really loved it, although it took a chapter or two to really hook me. No matter, there were like a million chapters, so what’s one or two?

I had no idea what this was about when I started it. I mean, I knew it was about medieval Japan, but that was about it. I wouldn’t have really been interested if I’d known, frankly. Set in the late 16th century, it tells of a Dutch ship, captained by an English “pilot”, swept off course and marooned in Japan. The captain and crew are captured by the local samurai, and there is a battle of wills as West meets East. It’s fairly gruesome at first. Lots of heads being chopped off and some interesting torture and plenty of mind games.

Eventually, the captain (Blackthorne, also known as the Anjin-san) becomes a political prize, and soon a friend. The political intrigue of the samurai leaders was not my favorite part… I skimmed some of the deep political intrigue (which also brings in the Catholic church and the silk trade from China).

What was fascinating was the Anjin-san’s education in ancient Japanese culture, and his sharing of his own culture. This part was absolutely fascinating. I really loved all of the cultural exchange lessons. There was also a bit of forbidden romance; always a pleasure.

It was an investment of time, but let me say that it completely beat “The Night Circus” which I was also supposed to be reading for my book club. I couldn’t put down Shogun. I skimmed The Night Circus so I could (sort of) keep up with the conversation, but all I wanted to read for the past six weeks or so was this massive tome.

If you have any inclination toward learning about Japanese culture in the days of samurai, read this. It was superb. Granted, the writing was a little stiff, but I attribute that to what I call “man-book” syndrome — it was not flowery at all. It got the job done. However, completely forgiveable as the story was amazing and kept me interested for over 1000 pages. That says something.

Now I have a LOT of catching up to do, reading-wise. Next up: Animal Factory, for book club — we’ve branched off into prison lit! Woohoo!



5 thoughts on “Book: Shogun

  1. That is a chunkster of a book. It definitely sounds interesting.

    We read the night circus for our book club too. I wanted to like it but by the end was skimming through.

    I wish my book club would branch out into prison literature. We have trouble agreeing on books.

    • It was really very good. I had re-check it from the library like three times! Huge. But worth it. I didn’t love the Night Circus… I was thinking of going back and reading it “for real” but then I just totally lost interest.

      I’m finding the “prison lit” totally addictive (sorry for the pun).

  2. The book was made into a1980 mini-series starring Richard Chamberlain. John Rhys-Davies is also in it. I remember it was a big deal. I however, did not get to see it as it was shown during the week and went past my school night bedtime.

  3. You know I’ve had Shogun on my to-read list for ages but was never compelled to actually read it. Thanks for the review, I’m going to give it a shot.

    The Night Circus I thought was just okay. It is a neat idea but the plot was lacking in my opinion…

    I’m reading Wildwood by Colin Meloy now and while his wife’s illustrations are fabulous, they could have chopped 200 pages out of the thing and been just fine…

    Happy reading! :)

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