Synopses & Reviews
In the year 1311, in the highest tower of Cloud of Sparrows Castle, a beautiful woman sits by the window, watching as enemies gather below and fires spread through the night. As she calmly awaits her fate, she begins to write, carefully setting down on a scroll the secret history of the Okumichi clan…of the gift of prophecy they share and the extraordinary destiny that awaits them.
For six centuries, these remarkable writings lay hidden—until they are uncovered by an American woman, a missionary named Emily Gibson, who arrived in Edo harbor in 1861, in flight from a tragic past. Soon an extraordinary man would enter her life: Lord Genji of the Okumichi clan, a nobleman with a gift of prophecy who must defend his embattled family—and confront forbidden feelings for an outsider in his midst. Emily, too, soon finds herself at a turning point; courted by two westerners, she knows her heart belongs to the one man she cannot have. But Emily has found a mission of her own: translating Genjis ancestral history, losing herself in an epic tale of heroism and forbidden love.
For here is the story of Lady Shizuka, the beautiful witch-princess who has enchanted Okumichi men for generations…of Genjis ancestors, Lord Hironobu and Lord Kiyori, and of the terrible betrayals that befell them…and of Genjis parents: a wastrel father and his child bride whose tragic love has shaped Genji as a leader and as a man. As Emily sifts through the fragile scrolls, she begins to see threads of her own life woven into the ancient writings. And as past and present collide, a hidden history comes to life, and with it a secret prophecy that has been shrouded for centuries, and may now finally be revealed. Takashi Matsuokas spellbinding novel is infused with spectacle, intricately woven, magically told. Autumn Bridge is a feast for the senses, a work of truly dazzling storytelling.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. What commonalities exist between the Japanese and American cultures portrayed in the novel? What lies at the heart of their greatest impasses?
2. Are the warriors in Cloud of Sparrows motivated by a universal code of honor? What psychological “weapons” must they each possess? Why have Genji and his people become so militarily vulnerable?
3. Would Mary Anne and Heiko consider themselves to be working in the same profession? Which of them garners more respect from her clientele?
4. Discuss the perceptions of physical beauty described in the novel. In what way are the characters defined by their appearance? What determines whether a visual cue will translate into seductiveness?
5. Power struggles, on both a personal level and an international one, drive much of the novels plot. How do gender and ancestry contribute to power in Cloud of Sparrows? What other factors are relevant? Who are the novels ultimate victors?
6. What symbolic bridges are crossed in Autumn Bridge?
7. In what ways is Lady Shizukas tale repeated by successive generations? To what degree are her prophesies a source of inspiration, despite their tragedy? Do the novels spirits appear to be purveyors of evil, or merely its messengers?
8. Chapter Sevens epigraph includes the observation that “courage and kindness are inseparable.” Has this aphorism proven to be true in your life? What do you make of the quotes observations regarding the nature of men and women?
9. What parallels can be drawn between Jimbo and Makoto? How do Genjis children embody various aspects of their father?
10. What is the effect of the novels closing scenes? Do the final paragraphs, depicting birth and death simultaneously, reflect or contradict the image of Abbess Jinkotu (Kimi) in a postwar climate?
11. While Cloud of Sparrows provides details about Emilys painful childhood, Autumn Bridge describes Genjis ancestral history through many generations. In what way do these notions of the recent past versus a distant one reflect how the characters perceive destiny? Do any family legacies shape your own choices for the future?
12. Themes of military, economic, and cultural dominance flow through both novels. How do these forces seem to evolve between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries? Where do love stories and religion factor into the equation of conquest?
13. Genjis attempts to outlaw the subjugation of the outcast class are met with resistance by those who view Western lawmaking as a dangerous defiance of ancestors, necessitated only by societies that have no guiding principles. To what extent do contemporary governments around the world continue to grapple with this conundrum?
14. Takashi Matsuoka created a rich cast of supporting characters, including Matthew Stark, Shigeru, Go, and Hanako. How do their decisions enrich the realism of the novels?
15. What do the novels indicate about the significance of storytelling itself and the vagaries of interpretation? How do various generations perceive the narratives of their elders, both in the novels and in your own experience?
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Takashi Matsuokas Cloud of Sparrows
and Autumn Bridge
We hope they will enrich your experience of these captivating novels.