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Book review – Gai Jin by James Clavell

Updated on February 20, 2011

Gai Jin is a term used by Japanese for the foreigners, principally Caucasians. The key of entire book lies here. Action took place twenty year after the events of Tai Pan, in the second part of nineteenth century in Japan . The companies that were formed in Hong Kong found a new market in Japan, establishing some strategic bases in couple of cities that was opened for commerce .

Meanwhile Japan is in turmoil. The administration is growing incompetent while the people starve. The cast of samurai are pushed more and more on the edge. This favored development of a new faction whose members were called shishi and fought against the oppression of Japanese government. The book begins with an attempt to kill some merchants by two shishi in order to start a war between the western society and Japan. The attempt has had success, one merchant being killed while other, a very important member of House Struan, Malcolm Struan, future Tai Pan of house Struan, being gravely injured .

After this attempt, the represent of western society demand reparations and punitive actions against the offenders and a series of negotiations between the representatives of the governments took place in order to settle this issue. Here we make acquaintance with Toranaga Yoshi, a descendant of the great Shogun who united Japan two and a half centuries ago. Opposed to the others members of the council he understood the necessity of increasing commercial trades with foreigners as a base for modernizing an ancient Japan.

The action is set on multiple plans. While Toranaga try to secure the future of a modern Japan, he also is trying to gain more advantages for himself with undeclared purpose to become Shogun. He is also one of the most important target of the new faction who recognize that he represent the biggest threat to their actions. In order to eliminate such a dangerous opponent shishi try to murder him with the help of his concubine. The attempt fails only because his skills in arm to arm combat. Meanwhile House Struan and House Brock are having their commercial war in Japan too, fueled by the hatred that consumed their predecessors.

As usual Clavel imprint a beautiful yet a very reliable picture of two societies with their weaknesses and strengths. As a reader, combining this with fascinating action happening on multiple plans, you will enjoy the lecture every step of the way.


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