Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan

Written by (tr. William Scott Wilson; abridged) Eiji Yoshikawa
Review by Rosemary Edghill

This book spans a period between 1536 and 1583, and is essentially the story (very well-known there) of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s rise from street brat to general, and at last, through a series of battles and alliances, as much by clever strategy as much as force of arms, to the highest nonhereditary post available, that of Taiko.

In Western terms, Hideyoshi is rather like a combination of King Arthur and Odysseus: he is famed for his cleverness and deviousness, as well as being revered for his role in unifying Japan during a time of anarchy and chaos.

While the story itself is interesting, the telling of it is marred by a rather pedestrian and extremely literal translation that makes no concession to readers unfamiliar with medieval Japanese culture. Even in this abridgement the book is over 900 pages of very small type, and the book seems at times to consist of little more than the iteration of an endless series of nearly-identical battles, whose stakes and outcome are opaque to the reader. Readers not already intimately familiar with and enthusiastic about this period and the culture may find this substantial volume rather slow going.