Shogun

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: Second Time Around

Second Time Around: Tell us about a book you can read again and again without getting bored — what is it that speaks to you?

July 1979 found me on tiny verandah in Washington DC. I had worn out my poor feet visiting every museum and gallery in the National Mall and I just wanted to sit down and read. My uncle had a copy of James Clavell’s Shogun. It appealed, far more that the books on international commerce and economics. It started well, a ship wrecked on the coast of a strange land. I got as far chapter three, and then the Greyhound beckoned and I was off west to further explore my own strange land.

April 1984, the north of England, and I am in a converted barn for a week. I have with a freshly printed version of a book I had begun to read some years earlier. This time I survived the ship wreck and entered into the strange land. And I was hooked. I knew little more of Japan than did the shipwrecked Elizabethan friend. But together we were to learn, and like him I came to love it. The characters, the culture, the attitudes, all supported by a compelling story. Since then I have read the book many times. Dog-eared and battered it has travelled around with me. We are now old friends.

The 21st Century, and there remains something special about the book. I know the story well; it holds no surprise, treacherous characters and plot-twists are soon remembered. And yet, still, I read it. Again and again. I love the way it is written, the way the characters are developed and most of all for the way it describes the the country and its culture; and with a passion and admiration in many ways, that I would not have expected from an author who was imprisoned by the Japanese and left with little reason to love them.

The descriptions of the behaviours and attitudes of the samurai lords and the peasant retainers are finely done. In one scene the ‘hero’ has a close encounter with his own death. Clavell describes how the hero feels when the he realises he is still alive, how all the senses are sharper, and life suddenly has a wholly new excitement. I think Clavell knew this first hand, he captures the essence of the moment perfectly, as I too was to learn.

And there is more. The intricate strategies wrought by the warlords; the frustrations of learning, and teaching a foreign language and culture where mistakes could be painful; and the beautiful love story that weaves its way through the book. Reading the book is an exercise in escapism, education, entertainment, and meditation. The concept of harmony, and by implication tranquility permeates the book; no matter how I feel when I start, I always end the book feeling calmer. Soon I may have to retire the old 1984 copy, for I known I shall be reading it again, and again, and again.


Image is of the battle of Sekigahara which is forms the basis for events in the book. Image credit: Public Domain. By User LordAmeth on en.wikipediaCollection of The Town of Sekigahara Archive of History and Cultural Anthropology [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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