A few months ago my 12-year old son brought home a book called The Children’s Story by James Clavell. I’d never heard of it or Clavell. (I know you must be thinking that I’ve been living under a rock or something not to have heard of either.) Anyway, he tells me that it is really weird and that he thinks I’d like it. I read it in about 10 minutes and agree with his analysis. It’s sort of like Ayn Rand for kids. Or maybe it’s anti-Ayn Rand for kids. It is certainly not your typical children’s book even with that title. But it does leave your head spinning for a few minutes.
I then hopped online to read more about Clavell. Everything seemed to have to do with Shogun, something I vaguely remember hearing about when I was a kid. Needless to say, after reading a bit about how popular Shogun was in 70s, I had to find out why. The book is huge at something like 1,200 pages. After reading just a few, I was hooked and realized it wasn’t going to take me months to finish. Shogun was very painful to put down. That’s not to say it isn’t flawless. It has several problems, but I couldn’t wait to find out how things would turn out. Plus, there are many tension-filled scenes that one can’t just stop reading in the middle of.
So what are the problems? The first is the Japanese. If you don’t understand Japanese then you have nothing to worry about. If you do understand Japanese, or are trying to learn Japanese, then Clavell’s errors will make you cringe on just about every page.
The second problem is that even though this is historical fiction, much of the history is off. I guess that’s OK if you are reading this just for fun, but if you are trying to learn factual Japanese history, don’t believe everything, or even much, of what Clavell says.
The final problem, in my book anyway, is that after a few hundred pages of close calls, fantastic happenings, and coincidences, things become less believable. Again, that may not bother some, but I like my fiction to still be something plausible.
Immediately after finishing it I had to see the miniseries from the 1970s staring Richard Chamberlain and Yoko Shimada on DVD. My family (who hadn’t read the book) loved it. I also enjoyed it, but the book is always better.