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Cloud of Sparrows [Abridged, Audiobook] [Audio CD]

Takashi Matsuoka , Ron Rifkin
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 1 2002
Once in a great while a new novelist comes along who dazzles us with rare eloquence and humanity, with flawless storytelling and a unique understanding of another place and time. Takashi Matsuoka is just such a writer.

His magnificent new novel, set amid the violence and beauty of nineteenth-century Japan, takes us beyond the epic tradition of James Clavell’s Shogun and into a majestic realm of samurai and geishas, ninjas and Zen masters. Brilliantly imagined, gloriously written, Cloud of Sparrows is at once a sweeping historical adventure and a love story of almost unbearable poignancy. It is storytelling on the grand scale from a novelist of astounding depth and grace.

Cloud of Sparrows

It is the dawn of the New Year, 1861. After two centuries of isolation, Japan has been forced to open its doors to the West, igniting a clash of cultures and generations. And as foreign ships threaten to rain destruction on the Shogun’s castle in Edo, a small group of American missionaries has chosen this time to spread the word of their God. Among them, Emily Gibson, a woman seeking redemption from a tormented past, and Matthew Stark, a cold-eyed killer with one more death on his mind.

Neither realizes that their future in Japan has already been foreseen. For a young nobleman, Lord Genji, has dreamt that his life will be saved by an outsider in the New Year. Widely reviled as a dilettante, Lord Genji has one weapon with which to inspire awe. In his family, one in every generation is said to have the gift of prophecy. And what Lord Genji sees has struck fear in many around him. As the Shogun’s secret police chief plots Genji’s death--and the utter destruction of his entire clan--the young and untried lord must prove that he is more than the handsome womanizer of legend, famed lover of Edo’s most celebrated geisha, Lady Heiko, and that his prophetic powers are no mere fairy tale.

Forced to escape from Edo and flee to his ancestral stronghold, the spectacular Cloud of Sparrows Castle, Genji joins his fate with Emily and Stark, unaware of the dark forces that drive them. Together with Genji’s uncle, Lord Shigeru, a legendary swordsman knee-deep in the blood of his own kin, and the enigmatic Lady Heiko, the unlikely band embarks on a harrowing journey through a landscape bristling with danger--to prepare for a final battle.

Here, on a snowscape stained with blood, horror will mix with wonder, secrets will unravel, and love will duel with vengeance--as East and West, flesh and spirit, past and future, collide in ways no one--least of all Genji--could have imagined.


From the Hardcover edition.

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From Amazon

Following in the substantial footsteps of filmmaker Akiro Kurosawa and Shogun author James Clavell is Takashi Matsuoka, whose action-packed debut novel, Cloud of Sparrows, unfolds as the age of the samurai warrior starts to wane. The year is 1861, and Lord Genji of Akaoka, last in line of the Okamichi clan, welcomes missionaries Emily, Matthew, and Zephaniah to Japan. Cut off from the West for more than 2,000 years, Japan is as completely unprepared for these outsiders as the missionaries are for geishas and honor killings. Genji, his geisha love Heiko, and the missionaries suddenly find themselves in the middle of several nefarious plots to overthrow the Okamichi leader from as far away as the shogun's palace and as close as Genji's own henchmen. Genji and his visitors journey together across treacherous terrain to seek refuge at the faraway Cloud of Sparrows palace. Although it's a rip-roaring yarn full of ambushes, swordfights, cross-cultural friction, love, and prophetic visions, the book does read a bit like a screenplay, cutting quickly from one scene to another. But the frequent shifts in the story's tempo succeed in making the novel all the more vivid, allowing simultaneous action and contemplation to deepen the story and its inhabitants. --Emily Russin --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Matsuoka's ambitious first novel is an epic saga of clashing personalities and ideologies in the tradition of Shogun, yet it distinguishes itself from its wide-eyed predecessor with a grimmer perspective on Japan's military culture. Set in Edo in 1861, the book chronicles the arrival of a group of American missionaries (two men and a woman, each hiding secrets) into a land bristling with feudal clans nursing ancient grudges and a central shogunate trying to maintain control in the face of corrosive Western influences (like Christianity). The young Lord Genji, a modern heir to the embittered Okumichi clan and its rulers' gift of prophetic vision, receives the missionaries as his guests. Their visit coincides with an effort by the Shogun's secret-police chief to destroy Genji, which leads to the accidental killing of one of the missionaries. In response, Genji, his mad uncle Shigeru (tortured with visions of "swarms of metallic insects," which presage the devastation of WWII), and Genji's lover, the devastatingly beautiful geisha Heiko, join forces with innocent American missionary Emily Gibson and Matt Stark, also an American, who is hiding under the mission's aegis while he hunts down a man who wronged him long ago, to stave off the imperial assassins and restore the honor of the clan. The novel boasts plenty of Edo-era pomp and pageantry, as well as some nicely convoluted court intrigue and lightly handled romance. But the author's central message appears to be a rebuke of the narrow-mindedness of the isolationist feudal tradition in Japan and its bloody track record: "It is our duty to ensure that all looting, murdering, and enslaving in Japan is done by us alone. Otherwise, how can we call ourselves Great Lords?"
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This novel, a work of historical fiction with elements of fantasy, opens in Edo in 1861 as two centuries of Japanese isolation is forcibly ended by outsiders from the West. As foreign ships threaten to destroy the Shogun's castle in Edo, a small group of American missionaries arrives. The missionaries are the Reverend Zephaniah Cromwell, his fiancée Emily Gibson, and Matthew Stark. Unsurprisingly, each has secrets and each has a reason for wanting to be in Japan which is not directly related to missionary work.

The missionaries are received as guests by Lord Genji, the heir to the Okumichi clan, and Zephaniah Cromwell is fatally wounded in an attempt to destroy Genji. Lord Genji, like one member of each generation in his family, is gifted with prophetic visions and he has foreseen that his life will be saved by an outsider. When Lord Genji is forced to flee from Edo to his ancestral home: the castle known as Cloud of Sparrows, he takes with him the missionaries Emily Gibson and Matthew Stark, together with his lover Lady Heiko, and his uncle, the legendary swordsman Lord Shigeru.

Their adventures involve some bloodthirsty battles, some Zen-like wisdom, and some elements both of cultural difference and prejudice. For some characters, their adventures lead to increased self-knowledge and increasingly, tolerance.

`Courage is knowing fear and overcoming it.'

I really enjoyed the portrayals of Lord Genji and Lady Heiko, as well as many of the minor characters. The turmoil of this period in history is clearly shown: the end of isolation from the West had its own impact on traditional Japanese society.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars James Clavell'ish Nov. 18 2005
By Absinth
Format:Paperback
As a huge fan of Clavell's asian saga, I've been on the lookout for something else to enjoy in that genre. While I agree it doesn't have the historical, or detail that Clavells novels posses, it is still very entertaining and hard to put down epic. If you liked GaiJin, you'll like this too. Looking foward to the authors next novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not well-researched at all June 24 2004
Format:Hardcover
The thing I liked about Shogun and Clavell's other works was the detailed research effort that went into each novel. I'm afraid Matsuoka doesn't deliver on the same level. He basically co-opts Clavell's Gai-Jin plot and then tries to overlay a real 17th Century Japanese historical event, the pivotal Battle of Sekigihara, onto the late Tokugawa landscape. I'm afraid it doesn't work for me or anyone else who knows history, since the samurai were almost gone by the time of the late Tokugawa shogunate. The same can be said for Stark, the American gunfighter who comes to Japan to hunt down a ruthless American desperado, hiding out as a buddhist monk no less! Ha! Ha! Excuse me, but I just have to laugh at this improbable nonsense. Add to that, Lord Genji's strange psychic abilities and you've got the makings of a good soap opera, or anime movie, but not an historical action adventure. The other reviewers said it best: James Clavell remains the undisputed master of this genre.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Last Samurai and then some..... June 24 2004
Format:Hardcover
I am not disapointed in this book and I am only 30 pages away from finishing it. To those who liked the last Samurai starring Tom Cruise, read this as I find the two to be companion pieces to one another.
What amazes me are the ones who didn't enjoy it. Some of them just expected the wrong thing, while others just do not get it. One reviewer claimed a samurai was honorable and would punish an entire village in blood for failure, or if you will dishonor. Well, think again. In the earliest years of the Tokugowa Shogunate over 50 Japanese-christians were exicuted in one day for following an outsider religion. And it wasn't just men that were exicuted or the adults. If a samurai's orders are to kill, the samurai will kill. Loyality is but a light word to describe the samurai and his relation to the lord being served. Devotion is a better word than loyalty I believe. Samurai epics have a tragic feel for a reason.
And as far as Westerners visiting Japan that was nothing really new. Europeans were visiting long long before the time this novel takes place, hence the exicutions mentioned and the 200 years of closed borders. As it is written anyway in history books I have read.
In short Western version of honor and Ancient Japan's version of honor are at least in part two different things. I do not presume to understand it all myself, that would be ignorant on my part.
Back to the novel itself. It is better than what I expected. I did expect something that would be action packed from page to page. There are action scenes and well handled ones. I feel the author did the right thing not focusing on action through out the entire book. Leaving more room for character discussion. It isn't unlike watching Seven Samurai, Zato-Ichi or Yojimbo. There is alot of Dialogue but good dialogue.
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5.0 out of 5 stars For the followers of bushido only!! June 24 2004
Format:Hardcover
To the "eta" out there who do not understand the mind of samurai, prepare yourself for a misunderstood and violent read. For those who have followed the way for many years such as myself, bow your heads to Takashi Matsouka and simply give thanks for a a job well done. This book is not intended for those who are uninitiated in the way of samurai life or mentality, therefore do not waste your time and money. This book is written for those who can appreciate a good fiction of that time period. For those who are practiced in the arts and understand the mind of samurai, you will not be able let this one go. Do not let the opinions of lesser minds affect your judgement. This is a must have novel!!
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Clavell Rip-Off
I read this book after Gai-Jin by James Clavell. It appears to be a rip-off of that novel. Plus the writing is worse, the plot is asinine, and it's way too gory for most people's... Read more
Published on June 21 2004 by Bob Sloan
3.0 out of 5 stars Average Writing
In my opinion, the book is not quite as bad nor as good as some readers are saying. I'd say Matsuoka has the potential to become a decent midlist writer. Read more
Published on June 17 2004 by Jim Collins
1.0 out of 5 stars Too stereotypical and bloody
I forced myself to read it, and I don't think the book's that good. Here are some of the problems: prose is difficult to read, not straightforward; too many Japanese and western... Read more
Published on June 17 2004 by Ron Nishikawa
5.0 out of 5 stars Bloody But Accurate
Overall, the book was very entertaining. I just want to comment on some of the other reviews that consider the book to be too bloody or that some of the Samurai in the book were... Read more
Published on June 16 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Pathological
I was deeply repelled by this work. On the surface, it appeared to be a Clavell clone. However, once I got past the first thirty pages, I realized that it was written by a sadistic... Read more
Published on June 11 2004 by Dean
5.0 out of 5 stars Astounding
This is easily one of my avorite books. Matsuoka-sama has created a true masterpices with this book. Read more
Published on June 5 2004 by M. Pedersen
2.0 out of 5 stars Horribly gruesome and disgusting!
I enjoyed Shogun and Gai-Jin by Clavell, so I thought I'd give "Cloud of Sparrows" a try. I have never been so disappointed in a novel in my life. Read more
Published on May 29 2004 by Kelly Reynolds
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great book! Can't wait for the next one, Matsuoka-sama!
After reading Musashi, Shogun and Gai-Jin, I was looking for more books on Samurai. I'm glad I picked up Cloud of Sparrows, it is a really good read, it draws you in from the... Read more
Published on May 5 2004 by Tiberius
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