Cloud of Sparrows
Takashi Matsuoka
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Cloud of Sparrows

Takashi Matsuoka
416 pages
October 2002
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Matsuoka illustrates the great East-West clash in 1861 when Japan is forced to open its doors to commerce with the West. Foreign ships drop anchor in Japanese ports that have never seen such models of advanced shipbuilding and maritime prowess. One vessel is particularly interesting because it carries a contingency of American missionaries, fired with zeal and anxious to carry Christianity to the unbelievers.

The Japanese, insulated from a changing world, have long maintained the Art of the Samurai, skilled warfare with a strict code of conduct. At this time in Japan, war is equated with art, each precise movement an integral part of the performance. For emphasis, each chapter is preceded with a quote from a respected master: "Every battle is not won by advance. Every retreat is not loss. Advance is strategy. Retreat is also strategy" (Chapter 7).

Lord Genji, a visionary young nobleman, literally sees the future, one that will include a changing Japan, with munitions and a naval force. Genji's journey through the countryside, gathering his troops and fending off attackers, is the strongest part of the writing, combining description and action to positive effect. Matsuoka vividly describes the warriors of each opposing faction and contrasts their battles against a brilliant landscape, where streams of bright red blood stain the pristine snow.

Genji is the last of a dying breed, the Samurai, as a once unbeatable warrior-driven culture gives way to the march of progress and the incursion of Western weapons that render hand-to-hand combat unnecessary. Matsuoka uses Genji and his other characters to paint a picture of classical Japan, a country clinging to tradition as the future waits impatiently in the wings.

© 2003 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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