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!