Cloud of Sparrows

Written by Takashi Matsuoka
Review by Mary L. Newton

In 1861, Japan has been opened to Western trade, igniting a clash of cultures. Emily Gibson is one of a small group of Christian missionaries. She has come to Japan to escape a past in which she has been blamed for sexual assaults because of her beauty. In Japan, she will be considered hideous, and therefore safe. Matthew Stark is searching for the man who did him a great wrong and is already in Japan.

The young leader of his clan, Lord Genji has dreamed his life will be saved by an outsider in the new year. His prophetic visions have angered and frightened those in power in Edo, Japan. Lady Heiko, Edo’s most celebrated geisha, has recently become his lover. When Genji and Heiko, Emily and Matthew encounter each other, a series of events is set into motion that will change all their lives in ways no one could have imagined.

Cloud of Sparrows is a stunning work. Matsuoka was born in Japan and raised in Hawaii; he gives us a view of Japan from the inside out, yet his American characters are believable as well. Dialog is natural and suited to each character. The encounters between alien cultures are movingly depicted. Japan’s ancient traditions, influenced heavily by Buddhist and Zen philosophy, are contrasted with the American and Christian traditions of the outsiders. Ideas of beauty, life, death, love, and honor are subtly explored. Much more than a love story, the novel also depicts exciting battles and masterful intrigues in the last days of the proud samurai tradition.