YEDO by Lynn Guest


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Japan, 1860--in a modest, lively novel that dramatizes the fearful, angry conflicts between those who favored limited cultural/mercantile exchange with the West and those entirely opposed to barbarian ""contamination."" Guest focuses on one samurai family in Odawara, a suburb of Yedo (Tokyo), capital of the West-leaning Shogunate. Tada Shoh has been chosen from the castle samurai to study western medicine--anathema to his younger brother Masayuki and their widowed mother, proud and icy Akiko, a model of ""ivory perfection."" Then, while Shoh is exchanging his traditional medical knowledge with English doctor James Wilson, other culture-clashes start brewing at the British Legation where Dr. Wilson is based. Sir Radley Ferrier, head of the small, isolated UK contingent, finds that his objectives conflict with those of US top-diplomat Jessop (who has a Japanese mistress). Young interpreter Peverel Fitz-paine develops a muzzy, fevered passion for 15-year-old Umegawa, a pleasure-house girl and daughter of an Odawara sword-sharpener. And tragedies inevitably start to accumulate as the novel moves predictably along: Masayuki joins a secret, anti-barbarian society--with murder ahead (despite the movement's splintering); double-suicide further devastates Shoh's family as the proud warrior-traditions grimly triumph; the brief flame of affection between Pev and Umegawa blinks out; Jessop's mistress is set adrift (no one wants a barbarian's woman) after he leaves; and the two valiant doctors ultimately reach a tentative mutual respect and empathy, fully aware of the enormity of their differences. Essentially familiar, but intermittently moving and brightly researched: an earnest probe of seismic culture-shock and its victims.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's