Tai-Pan: The Second Novel of the Asian Saga
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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. as she attempts to appease the Chinese god’s to help their listing boat to safety, by pretending to offer the god gold, but “cheating” in the end, and promising Struan that the god would never know that she tricked the god out of her end of the bargain by not dropping some gold into the sea (195). Due to the bargain struck between Dirk Struan and Jin Qua, Gordon Chen managed Jin Qua's financial interests in Hong Kong, investing in land and money lending. Into this mix the talented Clavell tosses wizened Chinese bigwig merchants and secret societies, four mysterious halved coins, stiff-lipped British naval officers, conniving Russian Grand Dukes, corrupt and incompetent English plenipotentiaries, Aye, matey pirates and lice-infested British rogue mercenaries, typhoons, storms, crazy oceanic currents and, topping it all, the heady and blossoming love between Dirk and his Chinese mistress May-May, an interesting microcosm of the tentative-but-burgeoning relationship between Western and Oriental civilizations, each with their own conceptions of pride, honor, barbarism, and justice; perhaps only in love do they operate on jointly familiar ground. 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.
From the very opening, with a virgin Hong Kong awaiting its annexation by the British, recently victorious in the First Opium War, and the first taste of the rough-and-ready, brutal-on-a-dime sensibilities of the coarse and cunning Brock, the somewhat more subdued and disciplined Yanks of Cooper-Tillman, and then the magnificent entrance of the swashbuckling-but-practical hero himself, Dirk fucking Struan, the Tai-Pan of the commercial empires, and his half-brother Robb - who so dearly wished to be like Dirk, but just wasn't - all of these heads of Western trading houses and the differing-in-details, but similar-in-spirit dreams of the almost endless potential for Hong Kong - serving as a leverage point for the commercial crowbar they wished to wield to crack open the unimaginable riches of the mysterious and vast Orient - everything is laid out to give the reader a taste of the excitement, the possibility that lay heavy in the humid air. Into these turbulent times comes a tail of rival opium smugglers, piracy, betrayal, love, hatred, incest, murder, friendship and natural disasters. As usual, the Brits way of occupying territory in the name of making them civilized and lead them to THEIR God and ways of life, forcing the rest of the world lose its culture, ethics, customs and peace!
On the finale: In the last 30 pages or so, a typhoon hits, destroys most of Hong Kong, kills many characters, including Struan himself and his mistress but shows that Hong Kong is the only harbor that can protect its ships from total destruction in such a storm. Years passed and I tried Gai-jin - I only finished that because I constantly hoped that even turn of the page would somehow bring about the book's miraculous redemption. 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. Most authors would show this by making the sailors say "Aye" a lot, here this completely changes the way that people talk, however.
In fact, to take Clavell off the hook , there are only a few great authors who can pull these things off without a hitch, so I sympathize. And it is in this exciting time and exotic place that a giant of an Englishman, Dirk Straun, sets out to turn the desolate island of Hong Kong into an impregnable fortress of British power, and to make himself supreme ruler…Tai-Pan! They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as having heroic qualities, who goes on a quest) only in this case Dirk Straun's quest is the never ending struggle to ensure that his company continue to thrive. I mean megabooks in the sense that this is a pretty long one at around 7-800 pages but it’s also unashamedly full of pure entertainment. At around 700 pages in length this isn't for the weak of heart, but it is extremely rewarding and one of those historical novels that delivers on two fronts: it not only succeeds as entertainment but education as well.
All the cunning and strategies involved in maintaining the largest trading company of the time, all the bitterness and rivalries experienced, all of it was astonishing to the senses. In Shogun si aveva da creare lo Shogunato, il destino del Giappone era in gioco e il protagonista era il jolly pescato dall'uomo che avrebbe cambiato la storia nipponica.
To a 1960's reader this wouldn't have been unacceptable, but in 2012 I have to agree that it might be difficult to swallow.He has made his own joss by being smarter, more ruthless, accumulating more wealth, and being stronger than his opponents. 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.