This is the story of a Japanese commoner who rose from the ranks of peasant to foot soldier to chief general of the realm and, ultimately, to become the successor of his overlord after that man's assasination. In the process the man who was known as "Monkey" to many of his contemporaries became the Taiko -- completing the work of unification of Japan (basically military conquest of the other warlords & clans) begun by his predecessor, the brilliant and fearsome Oda Nobunaga. It was a time in Japan before the social classes had frozen into the near absolute rigidity of later days, when people could still become samurai, even if they weren't born to it, and Monkey displays his tenacity and genius for organization to good effect in this context, impressing Nobunaga who plucks him from obscurity to make him a lord. Thought the least likely to succeed Nobunaga of all that warlord's generals and allies, the Taiko outwits those who who would have the job (or the country, for that matter) after Nobunaga and, using his strategic skills and ability to manage large and complex organizations and expeditions, defeats one after another of them on the battlefield. He does this less by open conflict than by outmaneuvering, outlasting and outbuilding them. In the end he is the last one standing, the head of a triumvirate of lords guaranteeing a brief period of stability during a time of change and unrest in the land. But the Taiko's moment is to be shortlived, however dramatic his ascent, for he is already rather advanced in years and everything he has built is destined to go to another after his death: his ally and junior, Tokugawa Ieyesu -- the man who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate (subject of James Clavell's fascinating fictional account in "Shogun"). But that is grist for another mill, and a different book. -- Stuart W. Mirsky
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Stuart W. Mirsky (swmirsky)
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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In the final decades of the 16th century, the Japanese shogunate is crumbling: As rival warlords jockey for position, their armies ravaging the land, Western ideas and weapons threaten traditional ways. "This is a world so grim that you may have to kill or be killed in the time it takes to pick up your chopsticks. Yesterday's ally is today's enemy." Toyotomi Hideyoshi, son of a poor farmer, aspires to serve the emperor as samurai. Through talent, energy, and dedication, he rises to the position of Taiko, absolute ruler of Japan in the emperor's name. This novel is filled with striking martial images: a warrior's "breast . . . like a tightly strung bow, pulled taut by innumerable emotions and strategies"; the "plain . . . covered with a thin veil of gunpowder smoke and filled with the stink of corpses and blood. With the morning sun, it smoldered with all the colors of the rainbow." A vibrant tale of heroic deeds and black villainy that brings to life distant times and people. - David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.