SHOGUN by James Clavell


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In Clavell's last whopper, Tai-pan, the hero became tai-pan (supreme ruler) of Hong Kong following England's victory in the first Opium War. Clavell's new hero, John Blackthorne, a giant Englishman, arrives in 17th century Japan in search of riches and becomes the right arm of the warlord Toranaga who is even more powerful than the Emperor. Superhumanly self-confident (and so sexually overendowed that the ladies who bathe him can die content at having seen the world's most sublime member), Blackthorne attempts to break Portugal's hold on Japan and encourage trade with Elizabeth I's merchants. He is a barbarian not only to the Japanese but also to Portuguese Catholics, who want him dispatched to a non-papist hell. The novel begins on a note of maelstrom-and-tempest ("'Piss on you, storm!' Blackthorne raged. 'Get your dung-eating hands off my ship!'") and teems for about 900 pages of relentless lopped heads, severed torsos, assassins, intrigue, war, tragic love, over-refined sex, excrement, torture, high honor, ritual suicide, hot baths and breathless haikus. As in Tai-pan, the carefully researched material on feudal Oriental money matters seems to he Clavell's real interest, along with the megalomania of personal and political power. After Blackthorne has saved Toranaga's life three times, he is elevated to samurai status, given a fief and made a chief defender of the empire. Meanwhile, his highborn Japanese love (a Catholic convert and adulteress) teaches him "inner harmony" as he grows ever more Eastern. With Toranaga as shogun (military dictator), the book ends with the open possibility of a forthcoming sequel. Engrossing, predictable and surely sellable.
Pub Date: June 23rd, 1975
ISBN: 0385343248
Page count: 998pp
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1975


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