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Cloud Of Sparrows

by Takashi Matsuoka
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Dell
  • Publishing date: 26/08/2003
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0440240859


Once in a great while a new novelist comes along who dazzles us with rare eloquence and humanity, with flawless storytelling and a unique understanding of another place and time. Takashi Matsuoka is just such a writer.His magnificent new novel, set amid the violence and beauty of nineteenth-century Japan, takes us beyond the epic tradition of James Clavell's Shogun and into a majestic realm of samurai and geishas, ninjas and Zen masters. Brilliantly imagined, gloriously written, Cloud of Sparrows is at once a sweeping historical adventure and a love story of almost unbearable poignancy. It is storytelling on the grand scale from a novelist of astounding depth and grace.

It is the dawn of the New Year, 1861. After two centuries of isolation, Japan has been forced to open its doors to the West, igniting a clash of cultures and generations. And as foreign ships threaten to rain destruction on the Shogun's castle in Edo, a small group of American missionaries has chosen this time to spread the word of their God. Among them, Emily Gibson, a woman seeking redemption from a tormented past, and Matthew Stark, a cold-eyed killer with one more death on his mind.

Neither realizes that their future in Japan has already been foreseen. For a young nobleman, Lord Genji, has dreamt that his life will be saved by an outsider in the New Year. Widely reviled as a dilettante, Lord Genji has one weapon with which to inspire awe. In his family, one in every generation is said to have the gift of prophecy. And what Lord Genji sees has struck fear in many around him. As the Shogun's secret police chief plots Genji's death -- and the utter destruction of his entire clan -- the young and untried lord must prove that he is more than the handsome womanizer of legend, famed lover of Edo's most celebrated geisha, Lady Heiko, and that his prophetic powers are no mere fairy tale.

Forced to escape from Edo and flee to his ancestral stronghold, the spectacular Cloud of Sparrows Castle, Genji joins his fate with Emily and Stark, unaware of the dark forces that drive them. Together with Genji's uncle, Lord Shigeru, a legendary swordsman knee-deep in the blood of his own kin, and the enigmatic Lady Heiko, the unlikely band embarks on a harrowing journey through a landscape bristling with danger -- to prepare for a final battle.

Here, on a snowscape stained with blood, horror will mix with wonder, secrets will unravel, and love will duel with vengeance -- as East and West, flesh and spirit, past and future, collide in ways no one -- least of all Genji -- could have imagined.

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  • Clearly a First, But Not Bad
    From Amazon

    As stated in previous posts about this book, this is the author's first novel. This is clear in some of his writing where the flow is broken, or his continued use of certain phrases or ideas almost word-for-word. However, the book certainly does create an interesting view - I specifically enjoyed his descriptions of the interactions between Western and Eastern cultures. He also creates interesting, though violent, fight scenes. However, towards the end of the book he makes a HUGE break in character for the main character. While it fits with the culture, it does not fit with the gentle, level-headed character he had crafted. It will be interesting to see him grow as an author, as this book was at the very least a promising beginning.

  • A captivating quasi-epic that takes you to another time.
    From Amazon

    No spoilers

    This was no only my first Takashi Matsuoka book, but it was also my first full-length experience with a novel involving Japan. I picked it up wanting something a little different from anything I have previously read (historical fiction and pysychological thrillers) and because I have interest in feadal societies, I thought I'd give Cloud of Sparrows a try, and I'm so glad I did.

    This book does an amazing job at transporting the reader from the present complexities of our world today to the differet, yet just as complex world of the samurai era in feudal Japan in the 1860s. This book probably can't be considererd an epic, but its numerous complex stories that intertwine to make up the larger picture work so well together that it is so easy to find yourelf no longer in the realm of the present. One of the author's greatest achievements in writing this book is how he perfectly divulges or withholds just enough of the stories to keep you thoroughly invested in their outcomes.

    When you read this book, you care about the charactes and are invested in what they think, do, say, and feel. Pick this book up to become a benevolent spectator to the ways of the samurai in nineteenth century Japan.

  • Another masterpiece
    From Amazon

    I read "Autumn Bridge" back in January, and I just had to read this book. I wanted to know how everything started, and I also wanted to read more of Matsuoka.

    In this book Matsuoka was testing his own abilities. It lacks the superb refinement of "Autumn Bridge," but is still, by far, an exceptional book to read: well imagined, well crafted and well developed.
    Matsuoka style is unique, elegant, elaborated and refined. I cannot ask anymore from any writer.

    The characters are interesting and complex. Lord Genji, the dilettante leader of the Okoshumi Clan, has the gift of prophecy. Emilly, the troubled American missionary,tries to escape her own beauty, Heiko the Geisha/Ninja who falls in love in the midst of her mission, and Shigeru, the mercurial lord who is a murderer and feared throughout the land. Their interactions go beyond regular, casual encounters, which describes the subtle, refined culture of the times.
    (Everybody cries, I noticed, like a kabuki play)

    The battles are well described and here is when Eiji Yoskikawa comes to mind. His books "Musashi" and "Taiko" are so rich in details that I have no doubt Matsuoka must have read them before starting his own book, which by the way is very original. (Or maybe Yoshikawa amd Matsuoka shared same sources)

    I can tell by reading these two books that Matsuoka is not a violent man. Witnessing violence is not the same as describing it, and it's evident that Matsuoka has never been around violence. Violence is described with such gruesome detail, as if Matsuoka wanted to illulstrate the volatile environment of the era. Shigueru massacres his own family as he goes mad with prophetic visions, and in "Autumn Bridge" is Lord Yorimasa who is the sexual sadistic psychopath. These violent scenes stand out in this story like blood smearing a sheet of chiyogami paper.

    Mr. Matsuoka is not only a talented writer. He has a gift and I am glad he's sharing his gift with all of us, enlightening the way for us, aspiring writers, to follow the path of our creativity and allow it to take us where Matsuoka is now in his "literary nirvana."

    I cannot give this book less than 5 stars.

  • NOT a Clavell clone!
    From Amazon

    I found this book mind-blowingly good. It rings very true with the culture of the period, most particularly in the parts other reviewers found so troubling, like Genji's slaughter of the "eta" village. Remember, Edo-period Japanese, even in fiction, were/are under no obligation whatsoever to adjust their activities to suit 21st-century Western mores--to do so would be "pablum," nothing but pandering to a market. Bravo to Matsuoka's editors for NOT compromising on this--they gave him free rein to disturb you--and maybe stimulate some thought about the lessons of history, East and West.

    It may interest some of you to know that while Clavell's "Shogun" is the most widely read novel of feudal Japan in America, it is by NO MEANS as true to the culture as many far better novels written by Japanese such as Eiji Yoshikawa. For example, "Shogun's" central romance could patently never have happened. Matsuoka did a far better job with a similar premise. And by the way, "gentle readers," if you don't have a strong "hara" you may want to stick to "The Tale of Genji" because most of the better samurai novels are pretty strong stuff.

  • Beautifully Written, Perfectly Plotted
    From Amazon

    After an isolation of 200 years, the doors of Japan have been forced open by foreigners. It is the year 1861. Genji no kami Okumichi, Lord of Akaoka Domain, has agreed to harbor American missionaries (of the True Word of the Prophets of Christ Our Lord church) within his Edo home, Quiet Crane, despite the anti-foreigner sentiment of his fellow countrymen, thus making himself a target for assassins.

    One of the American missionaries, the young and beautiful Emily Gibson, has come to Japan to escape her past. Because she has felt the curse of her own beauty in her homeland, she seeks a land where her beauty is considered anything but.

    As cursed as Emily is with beauty so too is Lord Genji cursed with the prophetic vision long famed to run within the Okumichi bloodline. He has foreseen much of Japan's future in glimpses while his uncle, Lord Shigeru, has been cursed with seeing far into the future, cursed to the point of intermittent insanity.

    Not long after the missionaries arrive, foreigners attack the forts and civilians of Edo with shipboard weapons. One of the castles hit in this rampage is Quiet Crane. The walls of his castle in wreckage, Lord Genji feels the threat of foreign and domestic enemies alike. Thus he and his samurai flee to the Okumichi ancestral castle in Akaoka Domain, Cloud of Sparrows (Suzume-no-kumo). Flight without the Shogun's permission is deemed illegal. Thus Lord Genji and his sworn samurai, and anyone else who follows him, have become outlaws.

    Sticky Eye, head of the Shogun's secret police, sees Lord Genji's flight as the perfect opportunity to end a battle that began two-hundred-sixty years beforehand in Sekigahara, a battle in which Sticky Eye's ancestors chose to fight on the losing side due to the prophetic visions of the Okumichi. Resentment drives Sticky Eye--to the point of obsession--in getting back at the Okumichi clan, but the Shogun makes Lord Genji's flight legal, denying Sticky Eye his quarry.

    Heiko (Genji's geisha lover), Matthew Stark (a cowbody on a quest for vengeance), and Emily Gibson have been taken along on the journey to Cloud of Sparrows. On this journey, one of the Okumichi prophecies comes to life, furthering the legend of the Okumichi prophets. Yet, after arrival at Cloud of Sparrows, Lord Genji has another prophetic vision, both bitter and sweet: he will have an heir, but the child's mother, the woman he loves, shall die in the birthing. But who is this mysterious woman?

    Don't think Sticky Eye is out of the picture yet. He and Genji's traitorous enemies still plot against the young lord. Another showdown will determine the outcome of the Battle of Sekigahara, once and for all.

    By now you are probably thinking I have given away most of the storyline to Cloud of Sparrows, but I have not. There are many stories within the story, each character having flashbacks into his or her own past. Each sub-story is just as captivating as the next; some even walked me right out of historical Japan and into the Wild West, in the blink of an eye. The story is also told from many viewpoints, with much back and forth for each scene, yet one would never notice it due to the riveting acts and actions spurring on the characters and their plights.

    One of my favorite things about Cloud of Sparrows is that Takashi Matsuoka scattered it with a fastidious detailing of old Japanese customs, making me feel like I received a cultural history lesson without the tedium (or drool) produced by a classroom setting. This story aroused a spectrum of hard-hitting emotions within me as well; an attack of the weepy-eyes was to be found around the corners of many a-page, as Cloud of Sparrows yielded a compassionate journey through the hearts and minds of its characters.

    The words "exceptional first novel" have been inscribed on this book's front cover. This is an exceptional novel, period.

    Grade: A+

    reviewed by Sherryl King-Wilds for[...]

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