Popular historian Milton (The Riddle and the Knight, 2001, etc.) returns with another page-turner: a chronicle of the actual events underlying James Clavell’s novel Shogun (1975).
Milton has the knack for pointing out in history’s vast tapestry those portions we most want to stare at. This time we follow the remarkable William Adams, an English mariner, navigator, and pilot who spent nearly two years at sea, suffered horrific deprivations, and watched the vast majority of his shipmates die before he and a handful of other survivors arrived on April 12, 1600, in Japan, a land so unknown that its existence barely surpassed the status of rumor. The Japanese promptly tossed Adams in prison for six weeks while they considered whether to execute the foreigners. But local potentate Tokugawa Ieyasu was intrigued by their ship and spared its mariners so he could learn as much as possible about their crude, uncivilized European ways. Adams rapidly rose in Ieyasu’s estimation: he learned to speak Japanese fluently, mastered the arcane intricacies of courtly behavior, and quickly established himself as a trusted advisor. Soon, he went native, dressing in Japanese fashion, marrying a local woman (back home, his English wife scratched for farthings), amassing a small fortune in land and other investments. Adams also mastered the difficult and dangerous choreography of political intrigue, as Jesuits, Franciscans, and the rival Dutch and Spanish constantly vied for attention and power in Japan. Adams remained for the rest of his life—some 20 years. Milton does a masterful job of conveying the wonder with which each culture beholds the other: the Japanese cannot believe how filthy and ill-mannered and horny the Europeans are; the English and Dutch stare slack-jawed at the casual Japanese brutality.
A remarkable tale that might have fallen from the inventive lips of Scheherazade. (3 maps, 47 illustrations)