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Novel Shogun by James Clavell – A reader’s review

Updated on January 12, 2012

Shogun by James Clavell is a fascinating novel. Some says this is not the best of James Clavell, and if it is true I want to read the rest of his novels as well. It is so inspiring and kept me up until dawn. It is a large book (1243 pages). It is all about Japan, Japan in the 1600s. It is supposed be built on a true story. Shogun talks about variety of things like War, international trade and trade disputes, romance, Japanese culture etc. Shogun caught up me firstly because of the fine story telling by James Clavell and secondly due to following reasons.


World trade pattern in the 1600s

Shogun is a fine book to get an idea about how the world trade is carried out in 1500s. In the 1500s the world was dominated by the Dutch and the Spanish. As they were the first to sail around the world, they went into new places spread their religion (sometimes by force) and made trade and bring back lots of treasures home. Ultimately they threw away the local rulers of those countries and made them their colonies. Then England also came into the play and this is the background for the book Shogun. War started between England and Dutch to become the leader of the international trade. This is the time that Shogun is talking about. Shogun opened my eye to read more regarding this era where world matters took a turning point. I want to read some history book to get to know more about this era and want to know what happened exactly.

The culture of the Japan in the 1600

I had heard many things about the warriors in Japan the Samurai but this is the first time I read about them in detail. I learnt that there is a cast system in Japan as in many Asian countries and the Samurai are at top of the cast system. They are the rulers. Any Samurai has many privileges, even to kill any man under them without any second thought. Even for the simplest misbehavior kill by a samurai can be the punishment. According to the novel any Japanese is very duty bound and incapability of doing that surely is the death for them. If a samurai is incapable of his duty he is supposed to get suicide (Seppuku). For them it seems the death is a very simple thing. Love is not seemed to be in their vocabulary. It is always duty. You marry somebody as a duty, you protect your husband as a duty not as a measure of love. So strange from my way of thinking.

Romance and sexuality

Throughout the novel there runs a very fine love story between Blackthorne (Anjin San) and Mariko. Two people from two entirely different civilizations meet each other and starting to love desperately taking every risk that comes on their way. For a married Japanese lady during this period it is impossible to think of love outside of her husband and that is reason enough force her to suicide. James Clavell builds a fine love story inside the main stories of the novel.

Following extracts from Shogun best explains what Shogun is all about

"What are clouds

But an excuse for the sky?

What is life

But an escape from death”


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