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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Favorite Authors: Clavell

I'm starting a weekly post of my favorite authors. I've already written about Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov,  and James A. Michener. Next in line is James Clavell. 
Most of the populace knows these stories as either movies or min-series. I've made a point to read the book before I watched them. That way I know how Hollywood either honored the author or mucked the story up.

1600's an Englishman is washed ashore in Japan and becomes a samurai. Loosely based on a real person. The setting is the civil war that results in the Tokugawa shogunate.
Boy was it hard to find the original cover of Shogun on Amazon! I had seen this book on newsstands for a couple of years and thought about buying it. When it was announced that a blockbuster mini-series was scheduled for the fall of 1980, I bought it at a paperback exchange for cheap and knew I only had about a month to read it. 
I went on a vacation trip to Nebraska to visit my wife's brother and family with her parents. This gave me time on the drive to read, and during down time. I was hooked on reading Clavell. 
The complexities of the social, economic and political make up of Japan are explained and all social strata are fleshed out in detail.
The mini-series did an admirable job of a very complicated story.

Other books by him I devoured:

King Rat
Setting is a Japanese POW camp during WWII. The king rat is an American hustler running a black market underneath the Japanese and stuffy British officers noses. Movie Empire of the Sun uses the same premise.
This was his first book and the shortest. It was turned into a black and white movie with George Segal. Kept very close to book.

Tai Pan
The setting is China in the 1830's and 40's. Dirk Stuan is The Tai Pan or supreme leader of a trading company. He trades opium from India for silver and then buys good from China to send back to England. After what are referred to as the Opium wars, Hong Kong becomes the trading hub for the China trade.
My favorite of all of of Clavell's books. It was made into a dreadful movie. It was a knock off using the sets and props of The Last Emperor. In the book Struan was given money to save his shipping business by Chinese merchants. He was given four half-coins and required to do whatever was asked of the person who gave him one of the half coins. They left this out of the movie. The most important plot point of all and they skipped it.

Noble House
Setting early 1960's Hong Kong. Struan's is facing a run on it's stock from a rival company. An American corporation comes in to get a slice of the market. The whole plot is complex and convoluted, dealing with cut throat business, espionage between the British and Communist China. Add hundreds of characters of all types fleshed out to make a wonderful read.
Fantastic book. Turned into a mini-series with Pierce Brosnan. Did a fair job. No way to tell all the complexities of the book. The half coins are important in this one.

Gai-Jin: Interesting read about the opening up of Japan after the U.S. opened up their trade. Struans is present here and it picks up with the descendants of Dirk Struan in tumultuous times. The weakest of all his books.

Whirlwind: An oil company getting it's drilling machinery out of Iran after the fall of the Shah. An expanded story partially based on H. Ross Perot's actual feat of getting property out in the time period. Again, Clavell brings the lives of everyday people alive while all the conflict is happening around them.


Berthold Gambrel said...

Wow, I have never heard of him! I like the premises of the books you list here; will add them to my TBR list.

P M Prescott said...

You never watched Shogun! Get it and watch it!