You are on page 1of 4

James Clavell, Writer of the East James Clavell was born October 10 1925, in Australia (Sydney).

He was a novelist, screenwriter, director, fought at the World War II and during it he got inprisoned by the Japanese. Nowadays he is best known for his books and Asian Sagas. The most favourite books by him are the followings: King Rat, The Shogun, Tai-Pan, Gaijin and Noble House. All of them were also translated to Hungarian language and these are the so called Asian Saga. (The Asain Saga also contains the novel of Whirlwind, but it can be an exception since its story takes place not at the Far East, but in Iran.) His father, Richard Charles was a captain at the British Royal Navy and most probably he also inspirated Clavell when he worked on The Shoguns main character, Blackthorne. In 1951 he married to April Stride and they got two children: Michaela Fleur and Holly Jane. Clavell was born as an Australian, raised in England and immigrated to USA, where he got the USA citizenship in 1953. He was an individualistic man and politically a supporter of laissezfaire capitalism. In 1994, in Switzerland he died of stroke while he was suffering from cancer for a long time. After reading some of Clavell novels I would like to introduce a small peace of his oeuvre/lifework through 3 of his most popular books. King Rat was written by Clavell during the World War II when he was catched by the Japanese army and was taken to one of their prisoner-of-war camps Changi (near Singapore). It is a semi-fictional novel, where he writes about the life-conditions of the prisoners. There is one prisoner who is called the King since this man stands out of the other prisoners completely. He makes money and can get every kind of wares (like cigarettes, medicine, food etc.) through illegal businesses with some Japanese guards. He is cunning, takes the danger of selling the prisoners belongnings (golden watches, rings etc.) to the guards and by doing these hazardous businesses he can live in luxury among the prisoners. Everyone at the camp is envious of him and every prisoner respects him, as well. Since the trade is forbidden at the camp some liutenants are observing the actions of the prisoners. Liutenant Grey especially hates the King and tries to take him and his businesses down without success. One day the King approaches Peter Marlowe (whose character is based on Clavells younger self) because of his language skills, intelligence, honesty and winning personality. After they got friends Marlowe also will be involved in the black market businesses of the camp. By the end of the story the Japanese lost the war and the camp was freed by the Allies. Everyone was happy to return home only the King looked sad since the attitude towards him also changed. This story shows that how well 1

could some people live under difficult conditions: in the camp the King had almost everything, he was respected by others etc., but in real life he was (actually) no one. The Shogun is a story about the 17th century Japan. From the1600s Japan closed its ports to the outsiders and no one could step to the land of the Gods (as Japanese referred to their homeland) except the permission of the shogun. There is a Dutch ship with an English captain which gets into a big strom after suffering months on the Pacific Ocean. The wrecks of the ship, some sailors and Captain Blackthorne eventually floats to the Japanese coast, a place called Izu. The daimyo (feudal lord) of Izu, Kashigi Yabu sentences the men to death, however, one of his cleverest followers advise him to keep the outsiders alive and learn from them about the European ways. When they refuse to cooperate, Blackthorne and his men have been tamed by the samurai methods and one of them got to be boiled alive. After this Blackthorne agrees to cooperate with Yabu to save the remaining sailors. Yabu needs Blackthornes knowledge and the European technology since he wants to overthrow the shogun and lead his country. For the time being, the shogun is a small child (named Jaemon) and a union of regents protects him, so first Yabu will have to defeat the biggest daimyos, especially his overlord, Lord Toranaga. However, Toranagas spies already informed him about the European men and soon one of his commanders arrives to Izu. General Hiromatsu takes the remained ship, guns and sailors to Lord Toranaga. Toranaga (got his name after Tokugawa Ieyasu) is only interested in Blackthorne and he gives him the name Anjin-san. It is the Japanese word for navigator since Japanese people could not pronounce Blackthornes name. During the story Blackthorne will be one of the key persons of Toranagas plot for the power, but somehow they also got to be friends. The novel is fictional, but some of the characters and names are based on historical facts. When the book was publised a few American histroians accused Clavell of writing untrue facts. However, his intention was to write a hictorical novel not a historic book and I would like to present some of these changed facts. The European ships original name was De Liefde instead of Erasmus. Blackthorne was a man named William Adams and he really reached Japan. It is also true that he got the title of hatamoto which only can be gained by the most trustful samurai of the shogun. Adams lived years in Japan, he got used to the life there and after a while he did not want to return to England, unlike Blackthorne who insisted to leave Japan until the very end. Jaemons real name was Hideyori and he was the Taikos son. The Taiko (Toyotomi Hideyoshi) was not a shogun, but he was Japans ruler before the Tokugawas and the 2nd of the 3 men who unified the feudal country. The Taiko died before he could pass the real and legitim power to his son, but he made 2

a promise with the 5 regents to save his son until he grows up. One of these 5 five regents was Tokugawa Ieyasu who could play the other regents against each other and gain the power over the country just like it happened in the story, too. Another fictional element is the love story between Mariko and Blackthrone. Mariko (a wife one of Tokugawas best samurai) according to the story fell in love with Blackthorne and they had a secret relationship. She even wanted to divorce his husband and remarry with Blackthorne. Even if Mariko became a Jesuist this kind of relationship would be unimaginable in the feudal Japan and she would have to commit suicide. But most probably there were not any samurai woman who would fell in love with an outsider, moreover they would look down of them. So because of this kind of storytelling Clavells novel are often referred as romantic novels from the West since Japanese writer would never write a story like this. The story of the Tai-pan takes place at Hong Kong and it is about how Hong Kong become one of the most important trading ports and colonies between the West and East. The Chinese called merchants as taipan, but among the merchants of the West only one could bear the title of the Tai-pan. The current Tai-pan is a Dutch man, Dirk Struan. He and his greatest enemy, Tyler Brock are the owners of the biggest trading companies which are doing businesses with China and India. Since Struan bears the title of Tai-pan, Brock only can be the second one and through the story both of them tries to destroy each other in matter of business and personal affairs. Brock wants the title of Tai-pan and hates Struan completely. Struan also hates Brock and for a long time. He started to work as a young sailor on the same ship as Brock and under his guidance Brock beated the young Struan often and very cruelly. Even years after Brock tries every kind of method to bring Struan down, but he can not. Aside Brock as a problem, Struan loses almost his whole family. The Struan family lived in Ireland where was plague at that time and only one of Struan sons remained alive. Struan asks him to come Hong Kong and wants him to be the next Tai-pan, but Culum doesnt seem to be interested in trade. Another difficult matter is that Culum fell in love with Brocks daughter, Tess and just as Brocks wife planned they even married. The Brock family hoped that like that way they can beat the Struans, but by the end of the story, even after his fathers death, Culum will take the leading role as the Tai-pan. The story of Tai-pan shows us the relationship between China and the British Empire of the 19th century. This century is labelled in the Chinese history as the century of humilitation because China suffered as a semi-colonial state under the West (and later Japanese) invasion. In 1965 the King Rat, in 1908 The Shogun and in 1986 the Tai-pan were adapted into movies. The miniseries of Shogun had the biggest success with stars like Richard Chamberlain 3

(as Blackthorne) and Mifune Toshiro (as Toranaga). The movie won the Golden Globe Award in the category of the Best TV-series, the Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress in 1981. Bibliography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Clavell [2012-05-01] CLAVELL, James: A sgun. rkdia, Budapest, 1987 CLAVELL, James: A tajpn. rkdia, Budapest, 1990 CLAVELL, James: Patknykirly. IPM Knyvtr, 1988