Gai-jin by James Clavell

Gai-Jin: The Third Novel of the Asian Saga

Gai-jin is set in Japan in 1861. It starts with an attack by samurai on a small group of Europeans who are riding along the Tokaido road near Yokohama. One man is killed and another two injured, one seriously. The seriously injured man is Malcom Struan, grandson of Dirk Struan from Tai-pan

Gai-jin is a multi-faceted story. There is the culture clash between the Japanese and Europeans – gai-jin means ‘outside people’, and many Japanese find their presence unwelcome. There are the power struggles between the Shogunate, the Council of Elders and  the Emperor. There is the attempt at revolution by the shishi, a group of Japanese samurai who are pro-Emperor, anti-Shogunate and anti-gai-jin. And there is Malcolm’s relationship with Angelique Richaud, the young Frenchwoman who was present at the Tokaido attack. These are just some of the threads of this fascinating story.

Gai-jin is set at at time when Japan was technologically backward. They had mineral wealth, but no mining or industry. Land ownership and agriculture were pretty much feudal. One of the daimyos is Toranaga Yoshi. He initially despises the gai-jin and wants them out of his country. Eventually he realises that the best way to get rid of them is to learn about their industry and military strength, and then beat them at their own game.

James Clavell provides links to some other Asian saga stories. Yoshi is  a descendant of Toranaga from Shogun, Albert MacStruan is one of the boys Dirk Struan sent to England at the end of Tai-pan, and a descendant of John Blackthorne from Shogun also gets a brief mention.

There is a lot going on in this book. Some might think that there are too many threads in the story, but I find that Clavell weaves them deftly. The pace never lets up. Even minor characters are described with enough detail to stop them being two-dimentional and make them believable. A door-stop of a book at over 1000 pages, and one I enjoyed.

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