Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Gai-Jin (1862) by James Clavell

Gai-Jin is the 3rd installment in James Clavell's Asian Saga, following Shogun (1600) and Taipan (1841), both of which I thoroughly enjoyed, and reviewed in the past. What I loved most about them is the way Clavell managed to incorporate facts about the history of China and Japan in those eras into the novels, and create characters that exuded exaggerated levels of greatness and weakness. I must say however that Gai-Jin has left me disappointed. I have only gotten half way through the mammoth book by forcing my way through it, whereas with Taipan I was rationing the pages to savor the experience. The main flaw with this book I feel is that, with Shogun and Taipan, Clavell had amazing stories to tell which he laced with historical facts and information which in turn added realism to his novels and brought the amazing characters he created to life. In Gai-Jin it is as if Clavell has collected a bunch of interesting facts about the Westerners and Japanese in Japan around the mid 1800's and he came up with a story to wrap around these facts, rather than the other way around. This leaves the novel lacking marrow. The characters were very 2 dimensional and only occasional references to Dirk Straun, the 'Green Eyed Devil' from the previous episode seemed to stir interest and arousal in the new characters. I felt at the end of the last book that Clavell ended things off quite abruptly and left some loose strings dangling, which I hoped he would have picked up from. Rather there is little reference to China or the seeds Dirk Straun planted as Taipan. The effort he has put into this novel would have been much better spent on making Taipan longer.

In Gai-Jin we join Dirk's grandson Malcolm as he arrives in Japan with a young French girl in tow. Due to some 'action' early in the tale Malcolm is injured and spends the bulk of the story in a pretty sorry state while we are left to focus on the French lass Angelique. She is fucking irritating. I do not have anything against women in literature and there are some feminine narratives I have thoroughly enjoyed, but this is not one of them. Clavell stays true to his style and takes is through the thoughts of all his characters from Malcolm to Angelique, and even the various Japanese counterparts, but somehow for me he failed to evoke any sense of interest or concern. Without any attachment to the characters I could not be bothered what fate they were destined to meet. I still do enjoy the facts about Japanese culture and history, like learning that Japanese had outlawed wheels during the 1800's to prevent Westernization. I have only gotten halfway through the book so far and I am going to finish it, more for the sake of closure rather than entertainment. I will also still read Rat King and Nobel House hoping to get sucked back into Clavell's Asian Saga.

No comments: