First and foremost James Clavell was one of the most talented writers ever. Especially if you like fiction about Asia. Not only did he tell great stories but his books were filled with so much good history and culture about places like China and Japan. Though I was never a fan of "King Rat" books like Shogun, Tai-Pan, and Noble House were some of the best I ever read. They were books you never wanted to end.
Gai-Jin starts off that way as well. The first 400 or 500 pages of Gai-Jin are classic Clavell. Combining many of the stories and characters from Shogun, Tai Pan, and Noble House. The books first 500 pages are terrific. Clavell using some familiar faces from his other books sets the stage for the Meiji Restoration in Japan.
The book in typical Clavell fashion talks about the history of Japan after the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853 as well as of China while it was divided up into spheres of influence.
Gai-Jin is so good at setting the stage for Meiji with its characters discussing Japan's options of either learning for the Gai-Jin or attempting a futile resistance and facing humilation like China suffered under the Opium Wars.
Unfortunately Clavell died shortly after finishing this book. And unfortunately the affects of his illness affect the second half of the book. The book just loses focus 1/2 way through. My gut feeling is that Clavell's illness just caught up to him. Because the book just goes downhill and nowhere which is not typical of Clavell.
Clavell will never be replaced. Other fictional books about Asia do not even compare. Cloud of Sparrows, The Laura Joh Rowland Books, are ok but not in Clavell's league. The first half of Gai-Jin reminds us how good he was. Unfortunately, he will never be replaced.