Before the Dawn

Toson Shimazaki, Author University of Hawaii Press $19.95 (798p) ISBN 978-0-8248-0914-0
Regarded in Japan (where it first appeared in serial form in the 1930s) as the historical novel of the period it portrays, this monumental work tells the turbulent story of the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, an event precipitated by the arrival of Commodore Perry's Black Ships, and the early years of the Meiji Restoration. The focus is on a mountain village lying across the highway between Tokyo and Kyoto, which was used by the Tokugawa regime as a posting station, and in particular on its headman Hanzo, closely modeled on the author's father, a rural intellectual who suffers the tragic consequences of being a man ahead of his time. Shimazaki shows that the Tokugawa shogunate, for all its repressiveness, had much to commend it; that the restoration, for all its successes, created a great deal of frustration and disillusion; and that, contrary to common belief, Japan's transition from feudalism to the modern age was not a leap but a slow and painful process. The author's supreme achievement is to dramatize wrenching social and political change at the level of individual response. This viable link between event and character, coupled with Toson's limpid, low-key style, is what makes his story so readable despite the massive historical research that infuses it. (July 27)
Reviewed on: 05/01/1987
Release date: 05/01/1987
Paperback - 816 pages - 978-0-8248-1164-8
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