CLOUD OF SPARROWS
A tinted review in adult Forecasts indicates a book that's of exceptional importance to our readers but hasn't received a starred or boxed review.
Matsuoka's ambitious first novel is an epic saga of clashing personalities and ideologies in the tradition of Shogun, yet it distinguishes itself from its wide-eyed predecessor with a grimmer perspective on Japan's military culture. Set in Edo in 1861, the book chronicles the arrival of a group of American missionaries (two men and a woman, each hiding secrets) into a land bristling with feudal clans nursing ancient grudges and a central shogunate trying to maintain control in the face of corrosive Western influences (like Christianity). The young Lord Genji, a modern heir to the embittered Okumichi clan and its rulers' gift of prophetic vision, receives the missionaries as his guests. Their visit coincides with an effort by the Shogun's secret-police chief to destroy Genji, which leads to the accidental killing of one of the missionaries. In response, Genji, his mad uncle Shigeru (tortured with visions of "swarms of metallic insects," which presage the devastation of WWII), and Genji's lover, the devastatingly beautiful geisha Heiko, join forces with innocent American missionary Emily Gibson and Matt Stark, also an American, who is hiding under the mission's aegis while he hunts down a man who wronged him long ago, to stave off the imperial assassins and restore the honor of the clan. The novel boasts plenty of Edo-era pomp and pageantry, as well as some nicely convoluted court intrigue and lightly handled romance. But the author's central message appears to be a rebuke of the narrow-mindedness of the isolationist feudal tradition in Japan and its bloody track record: "It is our duty to ensure that all looting, murdering, and enslaving in Japan is done by us alone. Otherwise, how can we call ourselves Great Lords?" (Oct. 8)
Forecast:The samurai mystique works its magic again. Foreign rights to this title have already been snapped up in France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and film rights have been purchased by Universal Films. The buzz on high should be matched by sales below—or at least that's what the publisher is gambling with a 100,000 first printing.
Release date: 10/01/2002