Synopses & Reviews
Once in a great while a new novelist comes along who dazzles us with rare eloquence and humanity, with flawless storytelling and a unique understanding of another place and time. Takashi Matsuoka is just such a writer.
His magnificent new novel, set amid the violence and beauty of nineteenth-century Japan, takes us beyond the epic tradition of James Clavells Shogun and into a majestic realm of samurai and geishas, ninjas and Zen masters. Brilliantly imagined, gloriously written, Cloud of Sparrows is at once a sweeping historical adventure and a love story of almost unbearable poignancy. It is storytelling on the grand scale from a novelist of astounding depth and grace.
Cloud of Sparrows
It is the dawn of the New Year, 1861. After two centuries of isolation, Japan has been forced to open its doors to the West, igniting a clash of cultures and generations. And as foreign ships threaten to rain destruction on the Shoguns castle in Edo, a small group of American missionaries has chosen this time to spread the word of their God. Among them, Emily Gibson, a woman seeking redemption from a tormented past, and Matthew Stark, a cold-eyed killer with one more death on his mind.
Neither realizes that their future in Japan has already been foreseen. For a young nobleman, Lord Genji, has dreamt that his life will be saved by an outsider in the New Year. Widely reviled as a dilettante, Lord Genji has one weapon with which to inspire awe. In his family, one in every generation is said to have the gift of prophecy. And what Lord Genji sees has struck fear in many around him. As the Shoguns secret police chief plots Genjis death--and the utter destruction of his entire clan--the young and untried lord must prove that he is more than the handsome womanizer of legend, famed lover of Edos most celebrated geisha, Lady Heiko, and that his prophetic powers are no mere fairy tale.
Forced to escape from Edo and flee to his ancestral stronghold, the spectacular Cloud of Sparrows Castle, Genji joins his fate with Emily and Stark, unaware of the dark forces that drive them. Together with Genjis uncle, Lord Shigeru, a legendary swordsman knee-deep in the blood of his own kin, and the enigmatic Lady Heiko, the unlikely band embarks on a harrowing journey through a landscape bristling with danger--to prepare for a final battle.
Here, on a snowscape stained with blood, horror will mix with wonder, secrets will unravel, and love will duel with vengeance--as East and West, flesh and spirit, past and future, collide in ways no one--least of all Genji--could have imagined.
From the Hardcover edition.
Matsuoka's magnificent new novel, set amid the violence and beauty of 19th-century Japan, takes readers beyond the epic tradition of Clavell's "Shogun" and into a majestic realm of samurai and geishas, ninjas and Zen masters.
About the Author
Takashi Matsuoka was born in Japan and raised in the United States. He lives in Honolulu, where he was employed at a Zen Buddhist temple before becoming a full-time writer. Cloud of Sparrows
is his first novel.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
Transporting readers to the beauty and intrigue of nineteenth-century Japan, Takashi Matsuoka has crafted a dazzling epic in two parts, Cloud of Sparrows
and its sequel, Autumn Bridge.
A magnificent adventure in the tradition of James Clavells Shogun, the journey begins in 1861, when a beautiful American missionary arrives on the shores of Edo Bay and enters an exotic world of noblemen and geishas, samurai and Zen masters. In Cloud of Sparrows, Emily Gibson and Genji, Lord of Akaoka, begin a nimble test of wills in the midst of an invasion that threatens their most cherished beliefs. With spies and chilling omens lurking at every turn, Genji must flee to the spectacular Cloud of Sparrows Castle. The undertaking brings together an unlikely band from West and East, including Lady Heiko, whose prowess in the romantic arts is equaled by her capacity as a ninja.
Autumn Bridge presents an overwhelming revelation that links prophesies of the past—as far-reaching as the fourteenth century—to Lord Genjis improbable alliance with Emily. In the year 1311, while tumult rages outside Cloud of Sparrows, a beautiful woman sits down to write an extraordinary tale. Her words will not be uncovered for another five hundred years, when Emily will translate the troubling Autumn Bridge scrolls and see unmistakable threads of her own life woven into these ancient premonitions. Revealing historical details about the pivotal figures introduced in Cloud of Sparrows, Matsuoka presents a stunning finale that encompasses not only their origins but the empires fate—and beyond.
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.
CLOUD OF SPARROWS
ISBN 0-385-33850-3 trade paperback
ISBN 0-385-33641-1 hardcover
Simultaneous eBook release
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?