Remarkable Sagas: James Clavell, Asian Saga

Foundinbooks.com will be featuring what we here call Remarkable Sagas, in effect book series that have kept us on our toes and craving for sequels, some having turned into world wide best sellers and movie franchises, while others having “only” made it onto our favorite book lists.

Enjoy today’s featured bestseller series, James Clavell’s Asian Saga!

King Rat
Tai-Pan
Shogun


Noble House
Whirlwind
Gai-Jin

The Asian Saga comprises six novels written between 1962 and 1993, all depicting Europeans’ lives in Asia throughout history. Clavell himself, a British Royal Navy officer stationed in Australia, was captured in World War II and imprisoned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Singapore. He suffered terribly at the hands of his captors and used the experience as the starting point of his King Rat novel.

Taking on such an enormous reading task (Shogun and Noble House number more than 1200 pages each) can definitely be intimidating. For me, it all started with Shogun when I was in my teens, at the time the only Clavell book in my parents’ little library. It promised to be an accurate and fascinating depiction of Japanese history and culture, something I’ve always been unfamiliar with but very interested in. It turned out to be an utterly addictive read and resulted in me digging up and breezing through the entire saga during the course of a summer break. Countless raving reviews, ratings, favorite and bestseller lists prove I am not alone. The Asian Saga books have been overwhelmingly successful at the time of their releases, and continue to blow away readers today.

There’s continuity throughout the saga, and I’ve always found it exciting trying to point out references to earlier novels, be reminded of or catch up on the evolution of characters I was already acquainted with. The story starts with Shogun in the 1600s, when English sailor and adventurer John Blackthorne is wrecked off the Japanese shores, taken prisoner by the local warlord, and gets caught up in the samurai’s fight for power. The adventures continue in Tai-Pan, in the early 19th century, when another Englishman, Dirk Straun, sets out to turn the island on Hong Kong into a British fortress. King Rat takes us to Changi, a World War II prisoner of war camp in Singapore, where Clavell himself was imprisoned as a young officer. It paints a desolate picture of suffering as a result of military conflict and the extreme measures one would go to to survive. We meet Asia again in Noble House, this time in 1963′s Hong Kong, during a period of financial tumult and power struggles between titans of the world wide market. We end up in Whirlwind‘s Iran, at the time of the 1979 revolution, when another European, Scotchman Andrew Gavallan, is caught up in the eternal power struggle, augmented by political and religious upheaval.

Clavell is simply a wonderful storyteller and loves not only his settings and twists and turns but also his characters, imperfect as they may be. It’s said he intended to continue the saga with a couple more volumes, and I for one am sure would have enjoyed them at least as much as the original ones. While my favorite remains Shogun, you may want to start with a less intimidating book size wise, perhaps King Rat. And if once you’ve finished that you don’t want to just devour the others in one go, then maybe… what am I talking about, you’ll love it, I just know you will!

1 reply to this post