Clouds of Sparrow by Takashi Matsuoka

Those who succeed and those fail are both destined to die.’

Is the ability to know the future a bless or a curse? Can that ability make a true samurai, one who doesn’t complain when being tortured, one who is willing to die for the sake of honor and loyalty, but is considered common to cry when feeling moved or happy?

(Blurb from the Indonesian translated book)

I was in the middle of reading a book for my Once Upon a Time challenge when my friend, out of nowhere, lent me Samurai – Kastel Awan Burung Gereja (the translation for Cloud of Sparrows). At first, I wasn’t that tempted to read it as I don’t really like translated book. But somehow, the book was calling me to read it. My defense finally broke down and put aside the book I was reading before. I have to say that I am glad I put that book down and started reading this one 🙂

Samurai never stops fascinating me…it was the era where killing another human being is not a big problem, especially when you are a nobleman…however, we can’t see that era as barbaric era because there were honor, loyalty and orderness laying side by side with the countless killing and decapitating.

The story took place in 1861, the time when Japan who has been isolated for centuries finally opened a bit to the outside world…of course with a lot of arguments between the noblemen. We can safely said that the book is historical fiction.

Okumichi no Kami Genji was the last in his Clan. He was the young Lord Akaoka. He was known to people as an incompetent leader because he liked playing with geisha and always tried to put emphasize on his outer appearance. But Genji was actually a very great leader, he had amazing talent to judge people’s characters. He knew how to use the situation to his or his clan’s benefit. He is also very compassionate. Okumichi clan had ability to foreseen the future, it might not be the future soon to come but also a future where they were no longer alive to see it.

Genji was in love with the prettiest geisha in Edo, Lady Heiko. But lady Heiko is actually a spy under Kawakami’s order. Kawakami hated Okumichi’s clan for no apparent reason. He wanted the clam to extinct.

Genji drew attention to himself by accepting three American Missionaries to come to Japan and live in his mansion. Crowell and his fiancée, Emily Gibson and Matthew Stark came with different mission on their hearts. Crowell really wanted to share Christianity to Japanese people, Emily was running away from her beauty that always brought her bad lucks while she was in US (In Japan, she was looked at as ugly woman) and Stark came to find a man who had killed his family brutally. Crowell died before he could do anything in Japan.

Genji was foreseen by his grandpa that he will only have 3 vision of the future and he will be saved by a foreigner on New Year….and that’s why he accepted the Americans. The meeting of these two cultures was really interesting, what people in America thought as good was bad in Japan and vice versa. It was so fun reading that part.

Meanwhile, on the other part of Edo, Genji’s uncle, Lord Shigeru who had gone crazy after killing his entire family kept on seeing the images of Japan in the future. He saw what happened to Japan during the World War 2, the images of people being burned alive and of iron birds with their hideous eggs that can blow up. For Shigeru, the images made him snapped from reality. Miracle happened when Genji came to see his uncle. The existence of Genji made Shigeru returned to reality. Shigeru was a a great samurai feared by others.

Because of an attack on Genji’s mansion, he decided to move to Okumichi’s castle, Cloud of Sparrows Castle.

Their way to the castle and back to Edo was really dangerous. Genji’s small army had to deal with bandits, traitors and Kawakami’s army. Somewhere in between, we got to know who the foreigner who saved Genji’s life was and what was the connection between two of Genji’s vision with the foreigner.

Now that I have summarized the story, let’s talk about how I feel about the book.

I like the way Matsuoka wrote his book, he moved it back and forth. He was really good in inserting someone’s past in between the current story, not only of the lords but also of the followers and the foreigners…although to be honest, I only felt interested when reading Emily’s past. When it came to Stark and the man he was chasing, I felt a bit bored and tended to skim that part.

Matsuoka also managed to show the lacks of feudal Japan and the greatness of it at the same time.

Samurai always amazed me…they had such discipline that no other army in this world have. They are very loyal once they have sworn to one nobleman. We got to see how loyal Genji’s samurai was despite some traitors who thought that Genji was not as good as his grandpa. But unexpectedly, Genji was blessed with new loyal samurai from the man who loved him more than anyone in the world.

Simply said…I like the book A LOT!!! It got everything in it. The culture comparison, the brutal war, the love, the loyalty, the honour and the harmony of life in the era where lords were given permission to kill any peasant who did not bow to them.

I would love to read the second book soon…but I have to find time to meet my friend. I still wish I had read it in English 😉

Book Details:

Title: Samurai – Kastel Awan Burung Gereja (Cloud of Sparrows: An Epic Novel of Japan)
Author: Takahashi Matsuoka
Language: Indonesian (Originally: I am not sure whether it’s in Japanese or English)
Pages: 820 pages
Publisher: Penerbit Qanita
Challenge: Japanese Literature Challenge 6

12 thoughts on “Clouds of Sparrow by Takashi Matsuoka

  1. Interesting. I’m fascinated by Samurai culture as well. I’ve got a non-fiction book somewhere but have forgotten how it is called. It’s about the discipline, honor and loyalty.
    I also like the weapons and the armor.
    This book is a bit too long for m but it’s great you like it. I wonder if it has been written in Japanese, I think so.

    1. Their discipline is amazing…it continues till today, Japan is a very dicipline country.

      The reason why I am not sure is it in English or Japanese is because the author is Hawaii residence.

  2. Yay! I’m glad you liked it, Nov! The second book is Jembatan Musim Gugur (aki no hashi) and you must read it! When can we meet? 😀

    1. 私のを貸してくれてありがとう (^_^)v
      Maybe on fasting month?
      I can’t read it now anyway because I ALWAYS reread One Piece during fasting month and right now I am in the middle of 20th Century Ghost.

    1. It is! We can learn so much about feudal Japan in Samurai era and which value are still carried on till today in Japan. The huge difference between US culture and Japan culture is also the fun side of the book.

  3. I’ve read this book few years ago, so I kinda forget the story hihi, buy it’s a good book indeed… And, I’ve read the second book too, but I won’t spoiled it for you 😉
    Also interesting to see how both culture (japanese & american) at that time defined ‘beautiful’ differently…

    1. I will probably read the second book after Ramadhan.

      Hahaha…yeah that definition of beauty is very funny. It gets funnier when you remember that nowadays adult manga prefer drawing women with big breast like Emily whereas at that time it was considered as ugly 😉

  4. have recently mooched this book, hopefully I will enjoy it as much you have. As to Caroline I think the book she mentions is Hagakure – The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo a good non-fiction account of this point in time is Modern Japan – A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Goto-Jones.

    1. I hope so too Parish 🙂
      My friend likes it so much and lent it to me, you at least knew 3 people liked it (My friend’s husband, my friend and me).

      I haven’t heard of those books you mentioned to Caroline…but then again, I am not a big fan of non-fiction 😉

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