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Owarikenshi
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 9:22 am    Post subject: Blossoms and Shadows review Reply with quote
Wow. Things were messy in Choshu. A hornets' nest, whacked with a baseball bat, comes to mind. Reading a dry recitation of names, dates and places in some scholarly history doesn't begin to have the same impact as seeing it through the participants' eyes. It sheds a lot of light on the chips on Choshu men's shoulders as events moved toward 1868.

Lian Hearn's long-awaited Bakumatsu historical novel, Blossoms and Shadows, is quite a departure from her "Tales of the Otori" series.
Written for an older, and I would even daresay historically literate audience, it portrays in poignant detail what really happens when flawed, ordinary people get caught up in violent factions in times of great change.

In spite of having all cultural details well in order, I didn't see this so much as a "Japanese" story as a story of human tragedy--it could just as easily have been set in the French Revolution, the Boxer Rebellion, the Bolsheviks, or Afghanistan now. If you're looking for romanticized samurai or sword and shinobi action, you will not find it here. The heroes, the villians, the lords and the lowly evoke more pathos than admiration. The overwhelming mood is the times' clashing currents of confusion. Without a doubt you feel like you are there--with your head mixed up. It is not particularly comfortable, and I believe it was not intended to be.

Of particular interest are characters whose personality quirks illustrate how various mental illnesses might have played out in those days, as well as a thoughtful exploration of the degree to which gender is a cultural construct rather than mere biology. Again,you could plug various modern peoples into these roles just as easily as Bakumatsu Japanese. I don't know if the author intended a "commentary" here, but *I* made a few connections. The perceptual distortions, irrational actions and after-affects afflicting people under life-altering stress also ring true, and contribute greatly to the story's stark realism.

Unlike the "Otori" novels which tend to grab you hard from the very first page, this book sets the scene more slowly, not unlike the way a Taiga Drama starts out. That's OK--you need to know whom you're dealing with. A reference book at one's side while acquainting oneself with this cast of characters would not be amiss. Once the blood starts to fly there's a lot of it, including a double-jigai that gave me chills. But this is the Age of the Gun, the great leveller of all classes of combatants, and the carnage here is as modern and visceral as this morning's news.

The people who get the most out of this book will be those already familiar with the events and personalities of that era. What I took away from it is the inevitability, and utter futility, of the sacrifices of most of the ordinary people who get caught up in the "isms" of their times. "Human rights" and "progress" are only born from blood and pain. The blossoms are still falling, and the shadows are very long indeed.

The book has been released in Australia and your best bet is to Google the title and order it from an Aus. bookseller. Highly recommended!

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kitsuno
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 5:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Got my copy right here - I had already read 4 pages before I realized I had to be doing something else. On my short list of things to read.
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I agree with everything Owarikenshi brought up. It's a great book, and the most meticulously researched piece of Japanese historical fiction since "The Signore" (and far more interesting than that particular dry piece of fiction).
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I can't wait to see it on Amazon -- looking forward to reading it!
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Tatsunoshi
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
It'll be out in England/Eu early next year, so should be on Amazon UK then (and hopefully by extension Amazon US).
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 8:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
That is a long time to wait!

I guess I will use that time to whittle down my ever-growing list of "to-reads."
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Obenjo Kusanosuke
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 9:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
It truly is significant and breath-taking piece of Japanese historical fiction that is epic in scope. Lian Hearn has a way of conveying the feel and landscape of Edo period Japan like no other western author I have read.

Frankly speaking, not to take anything away from David Mitchell and his excellent and well-researched book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet, Hearn clearly exceeds as a storyteller of life in Edo Period Japan and adds a dimension to the development of her Japanese characters that Mitchell couldn't quite realistically convey. Hearn knows her history and knows Japan, making her my favorite western author of Japanese historical-related fiction.
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heron
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 06, 2010 7:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Thanks, everyone - I couldn't have done it without you Very Happy
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Owarikenshi
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 07, 2010 6:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Bravo, Heron!!! It was magnificent!

Almost fell out of my chair when I saw "Wicked Iemon" Very Happy and I love the way you always think of the horses . . .


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Hosokawa Gracia
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 30, 2010 12:46 pm    Post subject: Re: Blossoms and Shadows review Reply with quote
Owarikenshi wrote:
Lian Hearn's long-awaited Bakumatsu historical novel, Blossoms and Shadows, is quite a departure from her "Tales of the Otori" series. Written for an older, and I would even daresay historically literate audience, it portrays in poignant detail what really happens when flawed, ordinary people get caught up in violent factions in times of great change.


The people who get the most out of this book will be those already familiar with the events and personalities of that era. What I took away from it is the inevitability, and utter futility, of the sacrifices of most of the ordinary people who get caught up in the "isms" of their times. "Human rights" and "progress" are only born from blood and pain. The blossoms are still falling, and the shadows are very long indeed.

The book has been released in Australia and your best bet is to Google the title and order it from an Aus. bookseller. Highly recommended!

Owarikenshi


I heard about Lian Hearn's Blossoms and Shadows just recently and was pleased to learn who she is. I'm looking forward to ordering it, too.
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Owarikenshi
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 07, 2011 6:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Just wanted to let everyone know that right now on E-Bay there are several copies of Blossoms and Shadows listed at very reasonable prices--half of what I paid to have my copy shipped from Australia. Very Happy

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