Cloud of Sparrows

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Once in a great while a new novelist comes along who dazzles us with rare eloquence and humanity, with flawless storytelling and a unique understanding of another place and time. Takashi Matsuoka is just such a writer.

His magnificent new novel, set amid the violence and beauty of nineteenth-century Japan, takes us beyond the epic tradition of James Clavell’s Shogun and into a majestic realm of samurai and geishas, ninjas and Zen masters. ...
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Once in a great while a new novelist comes along who dazzles us with rare eloquence and humanity, with flawless storytelling and a unique understanding of another place and time. Takashi Matsuoka is just such a writer.

His magnificent new novel, set amid the violence and beauty of nineteenth-century Japan, takes us beyond the epic tradition of James Clavell’s Shogun and into a majestic realm of samurai and geishas, ninjas and Zen masters. Brilliantly imagined, gloriously written, Cloud of Sparrows is at once a sweeping historical adventure and a love story of almost unbearable poignancy. It is storytelling on the grand scale from a novelist of astounding depth and grace.

Cloud of Sparrows

It is the dawn of the New Year, 1861. After two centuries of isolation, Japan has been forced to open its doors to the West, igniting a clash of cultures and generations. And as foreign ships threaten to rain destruction on the Shogun’s castle in Edo, a small group of American missionaries has chosen this time to spread the word of their God. Among them, Emily Gibson, a woman seeking redemption from a tormented past, and Matthew Stark, a cold-eyed killer with one more death on his mind.

Neither realizes that their future in Japan has already been foreseen. For a young nobleman, Lord Genji, has dreamt that his life will be saved by an outsider in the New Year. Widely reviled as a dilettante, Lord Genji has one weapon with which to inspire awe. In his family, one in every generation is said to have the gift of prophecy. And what Lord Genji sees has struck fear in many around him. As the Shogun’s secret police chief plotsGenji’s death--and the utter destruction of his entire clan--the young and untried lord must prove that he is more than the handsome womanizer of legend, famed lover of Edo’s most celebrated geisha, Lady Heiko, and that his prophetic powers are no mere fairy tale.

Forced to escape from Edo and flee to his ancestral stronghold, the spectacular Cloud of Sparrows Castle, Genji joins his fate with Emily and Stark, unaware of the dark forces that drive them. Together with Genji’s uncle, Lord Shigeru, a legendary swordsman knee-deep in the blood of his own kin, and the enigmatic Lady Heiko, the unlikely band embarks on a harrowing journey through a landscape bristling with danger--to prepare for a final battle.

Here, on a snowscape stained with blood, horror will mix with wonder, secrets will unravel, and love will duel with vengeance--as East and West, flesh and spirit, past and future, collide in ways no one--least of all Genji--could have imagined.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Set in 1861, in the waning years of the samurai warriors, Takashi Matsuoka's Cloud of Sparrows is a first novel that bears comparison to James Clavell's Shogun. In this fast-shifting epic, Lord Genji of Akaoka must thwart plots near and far. Memorable characters and unusually vivid sword-fighting battles.
Publishers Weekly
Matsuoka's ambitious first novel is an epic saga of clashing personalities and ideologies in the tradition of Shogun, yet it distinguishes itself from its wide-eyed predecessor with a grimmer perspective on Japan's military culture. Set in Edo in 1861, the book chronicles the arrival of a group of American missionaries (two men and a woman, each hiding secrets) into a land bristling with feudal clans nursing ancient grudges and a central shogunate trying to maintain control in the face of corrosive Western influences (like Christianity). The young Lord Genji, a modern heir to the embittered Okumichi clan and its rulers' gift of prophetic vision, receives the missionaries as his guests. Their visit coincides with an effort by the Shogun's secret-police chief to destroy Genji, which leads to the accidental killing of one of the missionaries. In response, Genji, his mad uncle Shigeru (tortured with visions of "swarms of metallic insects," which presage the devastation of WWII), and Genji's lover, the devastatingly beautiful geisha Heiko, join forces with innocent American missionary Emily Gibson and Matt Stark, also an American, who is hiding under the mission's aegis while he hunts down a man who wronged him long ago, to stave off the imperial assassins and restore the honor of the clan. The novel boasts plenty of Edo-era pomp and pageantry, as well as some nicely convoluted court intrigue and lightly handled romance. But the author's central message appears to be a rebuke of the narrow-mindedness of the isolationist feudal tradition in Japan and its bloody track record: "It is our duty to ensure that all looting, murdering, and enslaving in Japan is done by us alone. Otherwise, how can we call ourselves Great Lords?" (Oct. 8) Forecast: The samurai mystique works its magic again. Foreign rights to this title have already been snapped up in France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and film rights have been purchased by Universal Films. The buzz on high should be matched by sales below or at least that's what the publisher is gambling with a 100,000 first printing.
Library Journal
In this follow-up to his debut, Cloud of Sparrows-a People Page-Turner of the Week-a woman sits in a castle writing a story of medieval Japan as enemies gather below. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews

Some rootin’-tootin’ shoot-’em-up and slice-’em-up for those who thought the US-Japanese trade deficit was bad.

Missionaries arrive in Japan to spread Christ’s message. The time is just between the New Years—after the outsiders’ celebration and before the real New Year. A prophecy says that an outsider will save Lord Genji’s life after the New Year: but which New Year is meant? We seem to have Lord of the Rings (with the West as the economic orcs) mixed with Days of our Lives and The King and I, with a bow to Shogun to avoid accusations of plagiarism. Characters include the naive missionary Emily ("We bring nothing with us but the word of Christ. Why would anyone wish us harm?"), who may be doomed to fall for Lord Genji; the super-ninja-assassin Shigeru ("Slashing with the katana in his right hand and stabbing with the tanto in his left, Shigeru killed or mortally wounded everyone who opposed him"); the accidental gunslinger Stark, who repeatedly reminds us that a .44 bullet in the back of the neck can take a man’s head clean off; and Heiko, who is either the hottest geisha on this slope of Mt. Fuji or a spy—or both. The stakes are high: It will be war at the hands of outsiders or war among the samurai clans, and 2,000 years of civilization is on the line. Unfortunately, battle sequences are written more for ambitious cinematographers than for readers, and, really, Matsuoka doesn’t have the weapons to handle the morass he’s created: here, we’re treated to pedestrian wisdom ("It was truly a terrible thing to be in love"); nonwriting ("Above, the winter stars moved across the sky in their set orbits"); and inconsistencies—such as this one, regarding a land that’s supposed to have beensecluded for several hundred years: "We have always been easy prey for foreign fads."

In this case, enough said.

Film rights to Universal

From the Publisher
"The book seizes you from start to finish."
The Washington Post

Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553713909
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged, 5 CDs, 5 hrs. 15 min.
  • Product dimensions: 5.67 (w) x 4.90 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Takashi Matsuoka was born in Japan and raised in the United States. He lives in Honolulu, where he was employed at a Zen Buddhist temple before becoming a full-time writer. Cloud of Sparrows is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

The Star of Bethlehem

Crossing an unknown river far from your domain, observe the surface turbulence, and note the clarity of the water. Heed the demeanor of the horses. Beware of massed ambush.

At a familiar ford near home, look deep into the shadows on the far bank, and watch the movement of the tall grass. Listen to the breathing of your nearest companions. Beware of the lone assassin.


Heiko, feigning sleep, kept her breathing deep and slow, her muscles relaxed but not slack, her lips closed, at the very edge of parting, her eyes soft beneath unfluttering eyelids, her hooded gaze turned within, to the calm place at the center of her being. She sensed rather than felt him awaken beside her.

When he turned to look at her, she hoped he would see:

Her hair: the utter dark of starless night spilling across the blue silk undersheet.

Her face: pale as spring snow, glowing, with light stolen from the moon.

Her body: suggestive curvatures beneath the coverlet, also of silk, emblazoned with a finely embroidered pair of white cranes, their throats crimson with mating frenzy, dancing and dueling in midair, against a field of gold.

She was confident of starless night. Her hair--dark, lustrous, fine--was one of her best attributes.

Spring snow might be too far a stretch, even with generous metaphorical license. She had spent her early childhood in a fishing village in Tosa Domain. Those happy hours in the sun so long ago could never be completely erased. Her cheeks were ever so slightly freckled. Spring snow was not freckled. Still there was that moonlight glow to make up for it. Heinsisted she had it. Who was she to disagree with him?

She hoped he was looking at her. She was an elegant sleeper, even when she was actually asleep. When she was performing, as she was now, the effect on men was usually devastating. What will he do? Will he remove the concealment, lightly, discreetly, and look upon her unconscious nakedness? Or will he smile, lean down, and wake her with a soft caress? Or will he watch, patient as always, and wait for her eyes to flutter open on their own?

Such conjecture would not have troubled her with any other man, would not even have entered her thoughts. This one was different. With him, she often found herself indulging in such reveries. Was it because he was truly unlike the others, she wondered, or was it simply because this was the one to whom she had so foolishly lost her heart?

Genji did nothing that she had anticipated. Instead he rose and went to the window overlooking Edo Bay. He stood there naked, in the dawn chill, and watched whatever he was watching with close attention. Occasionally, he shivered, but he made no move to dress himself. Heiko knew that in his youth he had undergone rigorous training with Tendai monks atop Mount Hiei. Those austere mystics were said to be masters of internal heat generation, able to stand naked beneath icy waterfalls for hours at a time. Genji prided himself on having once been their disciple. She sighed and moved, as if shifting slightly in her sleep, to stifle the giggle that almost escaped her. Obviously, he had not mastered the technique as well as he might have hoped.

Her sigh, as beguiling as she knew it was, did not distract Genji from his observation. Without so much as a glance in her direction, he picked up the ancient Portuguese telescope, opened it to its full extension, and focused again on the bay. Heiko permitted herself to feel disappointment. She had hoped . . . What had she hoped? Hope, small or large, was an indulgence, was it not, and nothing more.

She pictured him standing there by the window. She did so without actually looking again. Genji would not fail to notice her awareness if she pressed too much. She wasn't entirely sure he hadn't already. That would explain why he had ignored her earlier when he arose, and again when she sighed. He was teasing. Or perhaps not. It was hard to say. So she gave up thinking and pictured him.

He was rather too pretty for a man. That, and the way he habitually carried himself in an excessively casual and unsamurai-like manner, made him seem frivolous, fragile, even effeminate. External appearances were deceiving. Without clothing, the visible striations of his musculature testified to the seriousness of his martial dedication. The discipline of war was a near neighbor to the abandon of love. She felt herself warming with remembrance and sighed, this time involuntarily. It was too difficult now to maintain any pretense of sleep. She allowed her eyes to open. She looked at him and saw what she had pictured. Whatever was on the other end of that telescope must be truly fascinating. It held his full attention.

After a time, she said in a sleepy voice, "My lord, you are shivering."

He continued watching the bay, but he smiled and said, "A foul lie. I am immune to cold."

Heiko slipped from the bed and donned Genji's underkimono. She wrapped it close around her body, warming as much of it as she could, while she knelt and tied her hair loosely with a silk ribbon. It would take her maid, Sachiko, hours to restore her elaborate courtesan's coif. For now, this would have to do. She stood and walked toward him with the short, shuffling steps required of gracious women, then went to her knees and bowed when she was a few feet away. She held the bow for several moments, not expecting any acknowledgment from him, and not receiving any. Then she rose, took off the underkimono, warm now with the heat of her body and redolent with her scent, and put it around his shoulders.

Genji grunted and shrugged himself into the garment. "Here, look."

She took the offered telescope and scanned the bay. Last night, there had been six ships at anchor, all warships from Russia, Britain, and America. Now there was a seventh, a three-masted schooner. The new arrival was smaller than the naval vessels, and lacked their paddle wheels and tall black smokestacks. There were no gun ports along her sides and no cannon visible on deck. As insignificant as it looked beside the warships, it was still twice the size of any Japanese ship. Where had it come from? West, from a Chinese port? South, from the Indies? East, from America?

She said, "The merchant ship wasn't there when we went to bed."

"It just dropped anchor."

"Is it the one you've been waiting for?"


Heiko bowed and returned the telescope to Genji. He hadn't told her what ship he was waiting for, or why, and of course she hadn't asked. In all likelihood, Genji himself wouldn't know the answer to those questions. He was, she assumed, awaiting the fulfillment of a prophecy, and prophecies were notoriously incomplete. Wherever her thoughts went, she kept her eyes on the ships in the bay. "Why were the outsiders making so much noise last night?"

"They were celebrating New Year's Eve."

"New Year's Eve is three weeks away."

"It is for us. The first new moon after the winter solstice, in the fifteenth year of the Emperor Komei. But for them, the New Year is already here." He said in English, "January 1, 1861," then shifted back to Japanese. "Time is more rapid for them. That's why they are so far ahead of us. Here it is, their New Year's Day, while we remain mired three weeks in the past." He looked at her and smiled. "You shame me, Heiko. Don't you feel the cold?"

"I am a mere woman, my lord. Where you are muscular, I am fat. That flaw keeps me warm a little longer." In fact, she was using all her discipline not to react to the chilly air. Warming the kimono, then giving it to him, was a moderately attractive gesture. If she trembled, she would be putting too much emphasis on what she had done, and all grace would be lost.

Genji looked at the ships again. "Steam engines that propel them whether the wind blows or the seas are becalmed. Cannon that can hurl destruction miles away. A handheld firearm for every soldier. For three hundred years, we have deluded ourselves with the cult of the sword, while they have been busy being efficient. Even their languages are more efficient. Because of that, so is their thinking. We are so vague. We rely too much on the implied and unspoken."

"Is efficiency so important?" Heiko said.

"It is in war, and war is coming."

"Is that prophecy?"

"No, only common sense. Everywhere they have gone, the outsiders have taken all they could take. Lives, treasure, land. They have seized the better part of three-quarters of the world from its rightful rulers, looted, murdered, and enslaved."

Heiko said, "How unlike our own Great Lords."

Genji laughed brightly. "It is our duty to ensure that all looting, murdering, and enslaving in Japan is done by us alone. Otherwise, how can we call ourselves Great Lords?"

Heiko bowed. "I am secure in the knowledge of such profound protection. May I draw a bath for you, my lord?"

"Thank you."

"For us, this is the hour of the dragon. What time is it for them?"

Genji looked at the Swiss clock on the table. He said in English, "Four minutes after seven a.m."

"Would you prefer to bathe, my lord, at four minutes after seven a.m., or in the hour of the dragon?"

Genji laughed again his free and easy laugh, and bowed, conceding her point. It was said among his many detractors that he laughed too frequently. This was, they said, evidence of a critical lack of seriousness in these perilous times. Perhaps this was true. Heiko wasn't sure. But she was sure that she loved to hear him laugh.

She returned his bow, took three backward steps, then turned to walk away. She was naked in her lover's bedroom, but her walk could not have been more graceful if she had been in full ceremonial attire in the Shogun's palace. She could feel his eyes on her.

"Heiko," she heard him say, "wait a moment."

She smiled. He had ignored her as long as he could. Now he was coming to her.

The Right Reverend Zephaniah Cromwell, humble servant of the Light of the True Word of the Prophets of Christ Our Lord, looked across the water to the city of Edo, the teeming pagan anthill of sin to which he had been sent to convey the word of God to the ignorant Japanese. The True Word, before these blighted heathens were totally ruined by the Papists, and the Episcopalians, who were only Papists in disguise, and the Calvinists and Lutherans, who were but profit-mongers hiding behind the name of God. Heretical deviationists had beaten the True Word to China. The Right Reverend Cromwell was determined that they not triumph in Japan. In the battle to come, at Armageddon, how powerful these samurai will be, if they take Christ into themselves, and become true Christian soldiers. Unafraid to die, born for war, they would be the most perfect of martyrs. That was the future, if future there was. The present did not look promising. This was a hellish land of harlots and sodomites and murderers. But he had the True Word to sustain him and he would triumph. God's will be done.

"Good morning, Zephaniah."

Her voice instantly melted his righteous rage, and he felt in its place that terrible, now familiar heat rising inexorably in him, firing his brain and his loins. No, no, he would not yield to those evil imaginings.

"Good morning, Emily," he said. He fought to maintain a stern calm as he faced her. Emily Gibson, a faithful member of his flock, his student, his fiancee. He tried not to think of the fresh young body under her clothing, the rise and fall of her ample bosom, the beckoning curve of her hips, the length and shapeliness of her legs, the occasional flash of an ankle beneath the hem of her skirt. He tried not to imagine what he had not yet seen. Her unhindered breasts in naked repose, their fullness, the shape and color of her nipples. Her belly, rich with fertility and ready for his flooding seed. Her procreative mound, so sacred to the commandments of the Lord Our God, so profane with the Evil One's sweetest inducements of sensation, scent, and taste. Oh, the temptations and deceptions of the flesh, the ravenous hungers the flesh called forth, the raging flames of madness the flesh stoked with incendiary lust. "They that are after the things of the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." He didn't realize he had spoken aloud until he heard Emily's voice again.

"Amen," she said.

Reverend Cromwell felt the world spinning away from him, and with it, the grace and salvation promised by Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. He had to drive away all thought of the flesh. He looked again across the water at Edo. "Our great challenge. Sins in mind and body aplenty. Unbelievers in their vast multitudes."

She smiled that soft dreamy smile of hers. "I am sure you are up to the task, Zephaniah. You are a true man of God."

A blush of shame flowed over Reverend Cromwell. What would this innocent and trusting child think if she knew what foul hungers tortured him every moment he was in her presence? He said, "Let us pray for the heathens," and knelt down on the deck of the ship. Emily obediently knelt beside him. Too close, too close. He could feel her body heat, and despite his every effort not to notice, his nostrils were flooded with the natural perfume of her sex.

"Her princes within her are roaring lions," Reverend Cromwell said. "Her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons; her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law. The just Lord is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity; every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame." Gaining confidence from the familiar cadences of the True Word, his voice grew stronger and deeper as he went on, becoming in his own ears like unto the very voice of God Himself. "Therefore wait thee upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy!" He paused to gulp down air. "Amen!" he screamed.

From the Hardcover edition.

Copyright 2002 by Takashi Matsuoka
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Table of Contents

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Transporting readers to the beauty and intrigue of nineteenth-century Japan, Takashi Matsuoka has crafted a dazzling epic in two parts, Cloud of Sparrows and its sequel, Autumn Bridge.

A magnificent adventure in the tradition of James Clavell’s Shogun, the journey begins in 1861, when a beautiful American missionary arrives on the shores of Edo Bay and enters an exotic world of noblemen and geishas, samurai and Zen masters. In Cloud of Sparrows, Emily Gibson and Genji, Lord of Akaoka, begin a nimble test of wills in the midst of an invasion that threatens their most cherished beliefs. With spies and chilling omens lurking at every turn, Genji must flee to the spectacular Cloud of Sparrows Castle. The undertaking brings together an unlikely band from West and East, including Lady Heiko, whose prowess in the romantic arts is equaled by her capacity as a ninja.

Autumn Bridge presents an overwhelming revelation that links prophesies of the past—as far-reaching as the fourteenth century—to Lord Genji’s improbable alliance with Emily. In the year 1311, while tumult rages outside Cloud of Sparrows, a beautiful woman sits down to write an extraordinary tale. Her words will not be uncovered for another five hundred years, when Emily will translate the troubling Autumn Bridge scrolls and see unmistakable threads of her own life woven into these ancient premonitions. Revealing historical details about the pivotal figures introduced in Cloud of Sparrows, Matsuoka presents a stunning finale that encompasses not only their origins but the empire’s fate—and beyond.

The questions, discussion topics,and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Takashi Matsuoka’s Cloud of Sparrows and Autumn Bridge.
We hope they will enrich your experience of these captivating novels.

A Novel
Takashi Matsuoka
ISBN 0-385-33850-3 trade paperback

A Novel
Takashi Matsuoka
ISBN 0-385-33641-1 hardcover
Simultaneous eBook release

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1. What commonalities exist between the Japanese and American cultures portrayed in the novel? What lies at the heart of their greatest impasses?

2. Are the warriors in Cloud of Sparrows motivated by a universal code of honor? What psychological “weapons” must they each possess? Why have Genji and his people become so militarily vulnerable?

3. Would Mary Anne and Heiko consider themselves to be working in the same profession? Which of them garners more respect from her clientele?

4. Discuss the perceptions of physical beauty described in the novel. In what way are the characters defined by their appearance? What determines whether a visual cue will translate into seductiveness?

5. Power struggles, on both a personal level and an international one, drive much of the novel’s plot. How do gender and ancestry contribute to power in Cloud of Sparrows? What other factors are relevant? Who are the novel’s ultimate victors?

6. What symbolic bridges are crossed in Autumn Bridge?

7. In what ways is Lady Shizuka’s tale repeated by successive generations? To what degree are her prophesies a source of inspiration, despite their tragedy? Do the novel’s spirits appear to be purveyors of evil, or merely its messengers?

8. Chapter Seven’s epigraph includes the observation that “courage and kindness are inseparable.” Has this aphorism proven to be true in your life? What do you make of the quote’s observations regarding the nature of men and women?

9. What parallels can be drawn between Jimbo and Makoto? How do Genji’s children embody various aspects of theirfather?

10. What is the effect of the novel’s closing scenes? Do the final paragraphs, depicting birth and death simultaneously, reflect or contradict the image of Abbess Jinkotu (Kimi) in a postwar climate?

11. While Cloud of Sparrows provides details about Emily’s painful childhood, Autumn Bridge describes Genji’s ancestral history through many generations. In what way do these notions of the recent past versus a distant one reflect how the characters perceive destiny? Do any family legacies shape your own choices for the future?

12. Themes of military, economic, and cultural dominance flow through both novels. How do these forces seem to evolve between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries? Where do love stories and religion factor into the equation of conquest?

13. Genji’s attempts to outlaw the subjugation of the outcast class are met with resistance by those who view Western lawmaking as a dangerous defiance of ancestors, necessitated only by societies that have no guiding principles. To what extent do contemporary governments around the world continue to grapple with this conundrum?

14. Takashi Matsuoka created a rich cast of supporting characters, including Matthew Stark, Shigeru, Go, and Hanako. How do their decisions enrich the realism of the novels?

15. What do the novels indicate about the significance of storytelling itself and the vagaries of interpretation? How do various generations perceive the narratives of their elders, both in the novels and in your own experience?

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Reading Group Guide

Transporting us to a world of samurai and geishas, ninjas and Zen masters, Cloud of Sparrows is a mesmerizing saga of nineteenth-century Japan. Published to worldwide acclaim, Takashi Matsuoka’s debut unites a fascinating cast of characters, including the prophetic Lord Genji; his infamous lover, Heiko; and American missionary Emily Gibson. When foreign ships threaten to destroy the Shogun’s homestead near Edo Bay, Genji’s closest circle must flee to the spectacular Cloud of Sparrows Castle, a journey bristling with danger and spies. Making their way through the snow-covered landscape, the anxious band of swordsmen and spiritualists must face Genji’s most controversial prophecy.

Cloud of Sparrows evokes powerful scenes of wonder and sorrow, secrecy and revelation, vengeance and love. The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Takashi Matsuoka’s Cloud of Sparrows. We hope they will enrich your experience of this captivating novel.

An Epic Novel of Japan
Takashi Matsuoka

1. The novel opens with Heiko’s point of view. In what way do her artful seduction rituals set the tone for Cloud of Sparrows?

2. Cultural definitions of beauty initially cause Genji to have disparaging thoughts about Emily, though in America she was considered to be dangerously attractive. Discuss the significance and symbolism of the primary characters’ outward appearance.

3. Jimbo embodies both East and West perhaps more than any other character in the novel. Does his former life—an identity he risks everything toescape—mirror his role in Japan at all?

4. Hierarchies of power drive much of the plot, especially between shogun and lord, man and woman, abbot and monk. What does it take to acquire power in the novel’s society?

5. In terms of philosophy as well as practice, what spiritual distinctions become evident among Genji’s followers and the missionaries?

6. While Genji and those loyal to him focus on his predictions for the future, Emily and the other Americans are troubled by brutal memories of the past. In what way does their time together enable both groups to resolve these haunting images?

7. Shigeru, Genji’s uncle, adds an element of deadly disorder to a way of life that otherwise seems precisely organized. Why is this significant in terms of Genji’s genealogy? What is represented by Shigeru’s vision of swarming metal dragonflies?

8. Mary Anne and Heiko work in essentially the same profession. Do they follow the same protocol? What brings them to such vastly different fates?

9. In your opinion, who are the novel’s true heroes and heroines? What is the motivation for its villains?

10. Discuss the differences between Genji and the other powerful men who have dominated Emily’s life.

11. The title of the book reminds us of the reverence for delicate beauty that exists alongside raw violence in Genji’s world. Do you believe that western society holds a similar respect for nature’s intricacies?

12. Cloud of Sparrows provides an armchair travel experience along with insight into an important chapter in history. What did you discover about the landscape, political past, and nineteenth-century culture of Japan?

13. What kinds of lives might Emily and Genji have lived had they been raised in each other’s cultures?

14. On page 504, Sohaku tells Jimbo, 'It is my karma that requires combat.' What does he mean? How might he assess the karma of the other characters?

15. Compare Japan’s current global role to that of the mid-1800s. What aspects of Japanese and American culture have merged? What caused these assimilations?

16. Does the ending suggest that Emily accomplished the mission that originally drew her to The Star of Bethlehem? What is the effect of the closing lines on page 560, comprising both a benediction and an admonition?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 47 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 48 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2003

    A book and author to remember.

    I found this book to be extravagant, charming, and emotional. The characterization is excellent. The story flowing. And the fight scenes, whether there sword fights or gun slinging, are riveting. I especially love the clash of cultures. If you love Japanese history and culture, or a western with a flare, you¿ll love this book. I hope to read more from Takashi Matsuoka soon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2012

    Cloud of Sparrows


    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 11, 2012


    This is a very well written novel. The story is gripping and I also enjoyed the setting in 19th century Japan. I recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2006

    Simply amazing

    This was a fantastic book that I kept hearing about on NPR. After I had forgotten about it, I came across it in the bargain area at Barnes & Noble and picked it up on a whim. It is fast-paced, full of action and memorable characters, and a good introduction to Japanese culture for the average Westerner. If you are even moderately interested in samurai or Japan, you will love this book. The follow-up, Autumn Bridge, was a bit of a let-down, but only because Matsuoka's first offering is so spectacular.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2005

    A Story of a Story that Is a History

    Remarkable. A Wonderful first novel that I hope will continue beyond the second, (Autumn Bridge). Takashi Matsuoka has done an outstanding job of telling a tale that will grip your imagination, keep you turning the pages well into the night, and hoping for more after the last word is read. This is a book that will be re-read, remembered and recommened for years to come.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2004

    I really love this book

    When looking straight at the cover, I told myself wow I think I going to like this book. I started to read it and I did like it. It took me 2-3 weeks to read this book. I am going to read Takashi other book 'The Attum bridge'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2004

    Great Read

    The author captivates you in a Japanese version of The King and I, yet with more excitement. One who doesn't know of or respects the courageous ways of Bushido will enjoy this book with every turn of the page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2004

    A History Teacher ...A martial-arts, action-packed story line reader...I LOVED THIS BOOK!

    'Cloud of Sparrows' is one of the most entertaining and cleverly written historical novels I have read in quite awhile. I agree with many others that the historicial references made in the book are a bit 'inaccurate', however most of the plot conforms to the standard research available and the entertainment value makes up for these minor flaws. Matsuoka is not a history professor, his works are not primary source material so in my mind, poetic license is acceptable! Perhaps 'Autumn Bridge' will explain and properly develop the story of the Okumuchi clan a little more! If you like historical'll enjoy this novel!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2004

    a Reviewer

    I really love this book. I read it twice already and told my sister about it and she loved it too. The author is a great writer I can't wait until his next book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2004

    A great read

    This book is very well done. I'm not someone who reads a lot of books unless it's great from start to finish. From the very beginning, there is no excuse that I could have thought of to actually put the book down. Let me tell you, this book lasted me 2 weeks (I had to take some time off...). The characters are memorable, and the plot will captivate your interst to the very end...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2004

    Great Book

    This was a really great book. Me, being into Japanses culture and stories really enjoyed it. It's really quick and fun though some parts might not be on the mark with the history. I want to read his other book now so badly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2003

    Enjoyable Read

    'Cloud of Sparrows' was an entertaining read. The bizarre lack of historical accuracy in a 'historical novel' will no doubt annoy some people. It annoyed me at first, but once I decided to ignore it and just enjoy the adventure the story became enjoyable. (For example, one of the main characters is a gunfighter who had made a reputation for himself in Deadwood. However, the story is set long before Deadwood came into existence, and the cartridge pistols that the gunfighter carries would not be invented for at least another decade and a half.) There were many such inconsistencies that weakened the impact of the book, and I hope the author does a bit more research before his future works, but even if he doesn't I'll still enjoy the adventures.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2003

    Should've Been a Long-Time Bestseller

    Are you kidding? Forget this one being just a 'good' debut novel. This is one of the best books I've ever read, and I've been reading for quite a long while. Characters, storyline, history, culture, everything...perfect. Truly indescribable. Be one of the privileged to read this book. I'm a Matsuoka fan from this day forth.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2003

    Another view of the Samurai

    I have studied Bushido, and the Samurai for a very long time. This book is written in a way that one can almost feel what it is like to fight for honor and the way of the warrior. The author gives descriptions that not only grasp your attention, they put the feeling and emotion into your heart and soul. I loved this book with a great passion and desire to read it again. Advise all to read it, Feudal Japan lover or not. It has everything you can want. Mystery, Murder, Action, Romance, and a poetic feel to it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2003

    Beach read!

    This is a first novel that reads like a treatment for a TV mini-series. That¿s not to say it would not be a fun and entraining event. However, many seem to be comparing or marketing this book as a new ¿Shogun¿. Well to paraphrase someone else, I have read Shogun (even saw the mini-series) and this is not Shogun. But given that I read it on the beach in Maui I found it literally to be a fun and entertaining beach read. And yes producers, let¿s make this into a mini-series, I think it would be great fun. By the way, if you have not read Shogun, spend time with it first before going down this road. Also, another, much better first novel 'the Piano Tuner'is a better bet.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2003


    I have to say that this is the first fictional book that I have read about Japan. I have nothing on the subject to compare it to, but I must say that I love to read. Of all the books I have ever read I must say that this is the best by far. The competition are smaller then dots from where this book is! It is written with an almost indescribale magesticality. It is unbelievably full of depth, drama, and excitement. It shows the many sides of people that they choose to keep to themselves. I can only hope that this is all Takashi Matsuoka writes. The only authors that are even on the same level are J.R.R. Tolkein, J.K. Rowling, and Steven King.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2003

    Amusing novel... who really cares about anachronisms?

    A book is a book, and not any other book. Why should Cloud of Sparrows be anything like Shogun or Gai-jin? Is there some unwritten rule, somewhere, that says all feudal Japan stories have to be exactly the same? I enjoyed Cloud of Sparrows IMMENSELY. I found the idea of a gunslinger in Japan humorous and entertaining. Suspend your disbelief for just a little while, people. I'm guessing these stick-in-the-mud reviewers hardly ever read science fiction or fantasy, where nothing ever makes sense. Doesn't the author have the right to create his story the way he wants it to be? The only problem I had with the novel was that occasionally (especially when I was tired) the names would get confusing and I'd forget who was who. But really, it's a small price to pay for the wonderful experience it was to read this book. I definitely recommend this to anyone who isn't afraid to take a different look at the world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2003

    Cloud of Sparrows

    I don't see what the other reviewers are crowing about in this book. It's written horribly, and the plot is weird. I don't understand how it ever got published.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2003

    A great book-a must read

    I really enjoyed this book. It is a fast read and is interesting and involving throughout. I strongly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2003

    Terrible Writing

    I feel truly cheated by Delacorte Press. I physically could not force myself to finish reading this book. The writing was that bad. And the plot? The author must have been on drugs when he wrote it (and so must his editor). The plot is so utterly wierd: a ruthless American gunslinger on the loose in 19th Century Japan? A psycho samurai warlord? Come on! Get real. Don't waste your money on this one, folks.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 48 Customer Reviews

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