Monthly Archives: April 2010

Enjoying James Clavell

Clavell’s books are about passion and passionate people. He covers the basics really well: love, hate, sex, greed, and power. He doesn’t think much of Piety, or religion. His protagonists generally appear smarter, drink boiled water or tea, and are often beset by problems.

I find that reading Clavell always brings some level  of focus to my life. Reading the lives of his intensely focused and passionate characters, I often find my life drab in comparison. Nothing unique about that. If stories talked about the ordinary and the mundane, would they have the arresting qualities?

Recently, I read Gai-Jin and watched the “Noble House” mini-series. The Struan family features positively in both. Gai-Jin is based in Japan, in the early 19th Century, with the settlement of Yokohoma. Clavell literally brings this period and city to vivid life. Joss features heavily and the story develops with layers of complexity piling up and the reader is often bewildered and hooked by the twists in the story. Interesting tidbits like the first sewage system, invention of the underground railway, the economics of the China trade, American civil war, taxation reform, interesting points of British law, and more are built into the story.

Young Malcolm Struan, heir apparent to the Noble House, comes onstage confidently. He gets injured in a tragic incident and things start getting interesting. Both, the European and the Japanese, sides of the stories are well covered and a vast game unfolds with characters making moves, counter-moves and random decisions. Each play illuminating the board and the characters in interesting ways. Change is inevitable. Loss of control and composure leads to failure. Evil gets punished, or it doesn’t, all in its own time, but blindness always leads to failure. And this is where Clavell is a master. Characters that adapt and survive do so by taking risks, and keeping their eyes open and accepting their Joss.