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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.
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.
As a huge fan of Clavell's asian saga, I've been on the lookout for something else to enjoy in that genre. Read morePublished on Nov. 18 2005 by Absinth
To the "eta" out there who do not understand the mind of samurai, prepare yourself for a misunderstood and violent read. Read morePublished on June 24 2004 by David DiCredico
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 morePublished on June 21 2004 by Bob Sloan
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 morePublished on June 17 2004 by Jim Collins
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 morePublished on June 17 2004 by Ron Nishikawa
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 morePublished on June 10 2004 by Dean
This is easily one of my avorite books. Matsuoka-sama has created a true masterpices with this book. Read morePublished on June 5 2004 by M. Pedersen
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 morePublished on May 29 2004 by Kelly Reynolds