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Tai-Pan: The Second Novel of the Asian Saga

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There are two major characters I want to talk about, although Clavell managed to create a fairly interesting and diverse cast of characters. We are never really given an approximation as to how long she had been with Struan, but it seems to be a significant time. The arch that should have happened over the course of the book is instead rushed out in what can't be more than three hundred words.

Having inhaled Shōgun (and the excellently terrible miniseries adaptation) on a trip through Japan, I was well prepared for the way this novel would go. Set in the budding village of Hong Kong in 1841 this is a historical fiction about that time and place, and its place in the socio-economic world of that time, as much as it is a character study about the Tai-Pan – Dirk Struan. You’ve sired bastards and you’re proud of them and your name stinks in the nostrils of decent people.

We get a little bit of history about the Manchu invasion and the Qing dynasty but other than it’s pretty much epic (melo)drama about the British, Scots, Welsh, Americans etc. It covers a very tempestuous 1841 as lived by a host of characters ranging from traders to pirates to admirals to slaves. A great protagonist, one I was glad to follow through regardless of whether I actually liked him as a person or not.

Despite this, I can't help but feel quite disappointed, especially considering Shogun is one of my favorite books of all time. I also loved his clever, funny, ultra-sweetheart mistress May-May and loved hating cruelly violent psycho nemesis Brock. As a result of this victory, the British take Hong Kong for themselves and Dirk seems poised to rise to even further heights of success. How appropriate that I should have finished it on Thanksgiving - a day given to gastronomical excess. It is a magnificent and vastly entertaining book, one I've read several times, never failing to tense up when Struan is ghosting across the water, nursing his fortune-saving forty lacs of silver from a hungry Brock; or dearly wish Gorth would, at any point, receive a desperately deserved thrashing; or marvel at the long-range thinking of the wise Jing-Qua; or cringe when May-May, bedecked in all of the gaudy accoutrements of a European lady, earns an unexpected and humiliating look of horrified shock from her surprised lover; or feel a melancholy heaviness when the typhoon smashes the island towards the end of the book, dealing harshly with Dirk and May-May, but opening up new vistas of opportunity for Culum to emerge from his father's formidable shadow.

This book raises the issues of Imperial trade, the duplicitousness of Opium smuggling, the strained heirachical positioning of both Chinese and Imperial British society and touches on many of the taboos and prejudices of the British community. In 1834, free trade reform advocates succeeded in ending the monopoly of the British East India Company under the Charter Act of 1833. Most authors would show this by making the sailors say "Aye" a lot, here this completely changes the way that people talk, however. Tai-Pan is an excellent historical fiction about the early days of Hong Kong and British-Chinese trade. Truth be told, I think this was better written than Shōgun even though I actually liked the 1975 book set in Japan better.

He’s tall, good-looking, brilliant, loyal to his woman, a master of grand strategy and manipulation, generous to his friends and ruthless to his enemies and all that good stuff. The most irritating thing about the book is Clavell’s Chinese character’s sense of diction, accent, and manner of speech. He knows how merciless life can be and his primary goal every day is to protect what is his and the people he cares about.As the pace kept speeding up and the end of the book was getting closer and closer I stopped hoping for some interesting finale and accepted that I would likely get some terrible twist of fate or act of god in the end that would make the finale seem less wholesome and try to make up for the fact that the protagonist faced no challenge throughout the entire story. This is incredibly frustrating and hard to read at times, especially with some characters not even just speaking with an accent, but instead butchering grammar and "misspelling" words.

James Clavell δεν έχει εκδοθεί (στο σύνολο του) στην χώρα μας, παρά μόνο σε ευτελείς εκδόσεις τσέπης, οι οποίες δεν χαίρουν εκτίμησης από μεγάλο μέρος του αναγνωστικού κοινού.However, he does suffer from being made to look like the less intelligent, alcoholic and abusive version of Struan. While the sudden death of such a likable character certainly had an impact on me, it is without doubt one of the laziest endings I've ever witnessed in a book. He plans for any contingencies and shows resilience in the face of a series of setbacks beyond his control. This is a great book for people who love history and novels about adventures and love, not a good book if you don’t like older language styles and adventures.

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