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Matthew Wright
Matthew Wright

A Historical Fiction Review: The 47 Ronin Story by John Allyn



The 47 Ronin Story by John Allyn: A Book Review




If you are looking for a thrilling and captivating historical fiction that explores one of the most famous episodes in Japanese history, you might want to check out The 47 Ronin Story by John Allyn. This book tells the story of a group of samurai who avenged their master's death by killing his enemy, a powerful lord who had humiliated and provoked him. This act of loyalty and honor sparked a nationwide debate about morality, justice, and tradition in a changing society. In this book review, we will look at what makes this book a compelling and engaging read, as well as some of its strengths and weaknesses.




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Summary of the plot




The book is based on a true event that took place in Japan in 1701-1703, known as the Akō Vendetta or the Akō Incident. It involves two feudal lords: Asano Naganori, the young and inexperienced daimyō (ruler) of Akō Domain, and Kira Yoshinaka, an elderly and influential court official who was in charge of instructing Asano on etiquette matters. Kira was arrogant and greedy, and he expected Asano to bribe him for his services. When Asano refused to do so, Kira insulted and provoked him repeatedly, until Asano lost his temper and drew his sword against Kira in the shogun's palace. This was a grave offense that resulted in Asano's immediate arrest and execution, as well as the confiscation of his lands and the dismissal of his retainers.


Among Asano's retainers, there were 47 samurai who swore to avenge their master's death by killing Kira, even though they knew they would face certain death for doing so. They were led by Ōishi Kuranosuke, Asano's chief councilor, who devised a careful plan to deceive Kira and his allies. For almost two years, the 47 ronin (masterless samurai) pretended to be drunkards, merchants, monks, or farmers, while secretly gathering information and weapons. On a snowy night in December 1702, they attacked Kira's mansion in Edo (now Tokyo) and killed him after a fierce battle. They then carried his head to Asano's grave in Sengakuji Temple and offered it as a tribute. They were arrested shortly after and sentenced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) by the shogun.


Analysis of the themes and messages




One of the main themes of the book is the code of bushidō, or the way of the warrior, that governed the lives and actions of the samurai. Bushidō emphasized loyalty, honor, courage, justice, and self-sacrifice among other virtues. The 47 ronin exemplified these values by remaining faithful to their master even after his death, by risking their lives and families for the sake of revenge, and by accepting their fate with dignity and calmness. The book also shows how the code of bushidō was challenged and questioned by the changing times, as Japan was undergoing a period of peace and stability under the Tokugawa shogunate. Some people saw the 47 ronin as heroes who upheld the samurai spirit, while others saw them as fools who wasted their lives for a lost cause.


Another theme of the book is the clash between feudalism and modernity, or between tradition and innovation. The book portrays the contrast between the old and the new, the rural and the urban, the simple and the sophisticated, the noble and the corrupt. Asano represents the ideal of a feudal lord who is loyal to his lord, generous to his people, and humble in his manners. Kira represents the decadence of a court official who abuses his power, exploits his position, and disregards his duties. The 47 ronin represent the dilemma of a samurai class who is losing its relevance and purpose in a society that is becoming more commercialized and cosmopolitan. The book also explores how different characters cope with or resist the changes that are happening around them.


A third theme of the book is the moral dilemma of revenge and justice. The book raises the question of whether the 47 ronin were right or wrong in killing Kira, and whether their act was justified or not. On one hand, they were following their moral code and avenging their master's honor, which was considered a noble and righteous deed. On the other hand, they were breaking the law and disturbing the peace, which was considered a criminal and rebellious act. The book also shows how different authorities and opinions reacted to their deed, such as the shogun, the emperor, the Buddhist monks, the Confucian scholars, and the common people.


Evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses




One of the strengths of the book is the accuracy and authenticity of the historical details. The author did extensive research on the historical sources and documents related to the Akō Vendetta, and he incorporated them into his narrative. He also used authentic names, places, dates, events, customs, and terms that reflect the historical and cultural context of the story. He also added some fictional elements and characters to make the story more dramatic and engaging, but he did so without compromising the factual accuracy of the story.


Another strength of the book is the style and tone of the narration. The author wrote in a clear and simple language that is easy to follow and understand. He also used a conversational style that engages the reader and makes them feel like they are part of the story. He also used some rhetorical devices such as questions, analogies, metaphors, and humor to make his points more effective and memorable. He also varied his sentence structure and length to create rhythm and emphasis.


A third strength of the book is the characterization and development of the protagonists. The author gave each of the 47 ronin a distinct personality, background, motivation, and role in the plot. He also showed how they changed and grew throughout their journey, as they faced challenges, conflicts, doubts, fears, joys, sorrows, regrets, and hopes. He also made them relatable and sympathetic to the reader, by showing their human emotions and flaws.


One of the weaknesses of the book is that it might be too long and detailed for some readers who prefer a shorter and simpler story. The book has 224 pages and 15 chapters, which might seem daunting or boring for some readers who are not interested in historical fiction or Japanese culture. The book also contains a lot of information and explanations that might be overwhelming or confusing for some readers who are not familiar with the historical background or terminology.


Another weakness of the book is that it might be too biased or romanticized for some readers who prefer a more balanced or realistic story. The book clearly favors the 47 ronin over Kira or other characters, and it portrays them as heroic and admirable figures who deserve respect and admiration. The book also glosses over some of the negative or controversial aspects of their deed, such as their violence, bloodshed, disobedience, or fanaticism.


Conclusion




In conclusion,The 47 Ronin Story by John Allyn is a fascinating and captivating historical fiction that tells one of the most famous stories in Japanese history. It is a story of loyalty, honor, courage, justice,and self-sacrifice that has inspired generations of people around the world. It is also a story of feudalism, the social and cultural changes that were happening in Japan at that time. The book has many strengths, such as its accuracy, style, and characterization, but it also has some weaknesses, such as its length and bias. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the 47 ronin, the samurai culture, or the Japanese history. I would also encourage anyone who reads this book to think critically and creatively about the themes and messages that the book conveys, and to compare and contrast them with their own views and values. FAQs




Here are some frequently asked questions about the book and their answers:


Question


Answer


Where can I find a PDF version of the book?


You can find a PDF version of the book on Archive.org, where you can download it for free or read it online.


How does the book compare to other versions of the story?


The book is one of the many versions of the story that have been told in different media, such as books, plays, movies, comics, and games. Each version has its own interpretation and adaptation of the story, and they might differ in some details or aspects. Some of the most famous versions are Chūshingura (a series of kabuki plays), The Loyal 47 Ronin (a 1958 movie by Hiroshi Inagaki), and 47 Ronin (a 2013 movie by Carl Rinsch).


What are some of the differences between the book and the movie adaptation?


The book is more faithful to the historical facts and sources than the movie adaptation, which added some fictional elements and characters to make the story more appealing to a global audience. For example, the movie introduced a half-Japanese half-British character named Kai (played by Keanu Reeves), who joins the 47 ronin as a love interest for Asano's daughter. The movie also added some fantasy and supernatural elements, such as witches, dragons, and magic.


How did the author research and write the book?


The author was an American writer who lived in Japan for several years and worked as a translator and editor for Charles E. Tuttle Company, a publisher of books on Asian culture. He was fascinated by the story of the 47 ronin and decided to write a novel based on it. He researched extensively on the historical sources and documents related to the Akō Vendetta, and he consulted with experts and scholars on Japanese history and culture. He wrote the book in English, but he used some Japanese words and phrases to give it an authentic flavor.


What are some of the cultural and historical references in the book?


The book contains many references to the cultural and historical context of Japan in the 18th century, such as:


- The Tokugawa shogunate: The feudal military government that ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868. It was led by a shogun (supreme military leader) who had more power than the emperor. It established a rigid social hierarchy that divided people into four classes: samurai (warriors), peasants (farmers), artisans (craftsmen), and merchants (traders). It also enforced a strict policy of isolationism that prohibited foreign trade and contact.


- The code of bushidō: The ethical code that guided the behavior and conduct of the samurai. It emphasized loyalty to one's lord, honor in one's actions, courage in facing danger, justice in dealing with others, and self-sacrifice for one's cause. It also required samurai to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) if they failed to uphold these values or if they were ordered to do so by their lord.


- The Akō Domain: A small feudal domain located in Harima Province (now Hyōgo Prefecture) in western Japan. It was ruled by Asano Naganori from 1682 to 1701. It had about 50,000 koku (a unit of rice production) of income, which made it one of the lowest-ranking domains in Japan. It was known for its loyal and brave samurai, as well as its prosperous and peaceful people.


- The Sengakuji Temple: A Buddhist temple located in Takanawa, Minato, Tokyo. It was founded in 1612 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. It is famous for being the burial site of Asano Naganori and the 47 ronin, who are enshrined as deities in the temple. It is also a popular tourist attraction and a place of pilgrimage for many people who admire the 47 ronin.


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