on 11 May 2003
Initially when I picked up this book I expected to be slightly disappointed as I believed there was no way it could measure up to the awesome Shogun by the same author. How wrong I was! If anything this is even better and is a more rounded story featuring an ending, something which Clavell in Shogun seemed to forget to write.
Dirk Struan is a neatly nuanced hero and the wily Brock along with his betsial son Gorth make compelling brutish enemies. Tai-Pan is the kind of historical novel which does not deserve the scorn that is often poured on the genre. Quite simply, adventure storytelling at its best.
on 2 June 2003
I first read Shogun because of an interest in all things Japanese. Having liked Clavell's writing style so much, I decided to read more of his books. I wasn't disappointed. Tai-Pan is even better than Shogun. The characterisation is excellent and makes you love a character who is essentially a bit of a pirate. Now hooked on the fortunes of the Struan Company, I have to read the complete set.
Death and damnation to Tyler Brock and all his descendants!!!
Long live the Noble House.
James Clavell is a master of his art, and Tai-Pan is a highly readable novel. That said, it lacks the force of the earlier-set Shogun, and I found it weaker as a historical novel. Set in 1840-2, during the first Opium War, Tai-Pan revolves around the foundation of the colony of Hong Kong. The somewhat romantic view is that the island was meant to bridge the Chinese and Western civilizations and bring modernity to China. Dirk Struan, a Scot, is the Tai-Pan, the boss of the biggest British trading house. He battles it out with his fellow merchant and arch-rival Brock, with Chinese pirates, and with pompous consular officials for survival and especially to make sure his creation - the colony, just granted to Britain by the defeated Chinese - also survives. The Tai-Pan must escape bankruptcy, murder, and disrepute, while at the same time ensuring his weakling son is made fit to succeed him. The cast is, as usual in Clavell, operatic, also involving many minor characters - the young and penniless English libertine, the Tai-Pan's half-caste son, etc., and multiple colourful side-plots.
While this makes for good reading as an adventure novel, I nevertheless found Tai-Pan mildly disappointing after Shogun - admittedly a hard act to follow. The novel lacks the breakneck start of its predecessor. The hero is not based on a historical character - or else if he is meant to be based on Lindsay or Jardine, the characterisation is grossly off. The history is less reliable, and indeed the Opium War itself is more or less ignored, with no mention even of the siege of Canton. The rather nasty opium trade, of course, is also glossed over. Then the East-meets-West characterisation relies on often similar stereotyping of both Europeans and Orientals - about the importance of saving face, about cleanliness or the lack thereof among Europeans - as in Shogun, so that mores are not found to have changed very much in the intervening 250 years, or to be that different between Japan and China. Clavell remains worth reading for sheer entertainment, and I'll probably persevere with the Asian Saga one at a time and at a safe intervals. But Tai Pan is a weak four stars as a historical novel.
on 7 December 2002
Tai-Pan tells the true story of the largest trading company in Asia, and how he succeceded in making Hong Kong British.
The story itself cannot be summarised, I have never read a book with so much attention to detail. Dozens of subplots, Deadly Intrique,Manipulation,Sex,Politics,War,rivalries. Just an all round Epic which evryone must read!
Clavell creates rich characters which you will remember for many a year, Straun,Orlov and Quance stand out. He mixes Drama with Action, Action with Humor,etc and sub-plots which seem impossibly entwined.
You will be transported to a different world, one you will not want to leave.
One of the greatest books I have ever read, everyone should read at least once a year.
on 22 June 2015
Like many others I imagine, I came to this book after having thoroughly enjoyed Shogun. (Except for the ending where James Clavell seemed to have run out of paper/time/motivation to properly finish the book.)
Just like Shogun this book paints a very vivid picture of its location and time with a cast of believable characters. However, where as with Shogun I became instantly associated with the protagonist, with this book I simply did not find any character that I particularly rooted for. Reading a book where you really do not care whatever happens to any of the characters rapidly becomes a very monotonous experience. After about 100 pages or so I give up.
Perhaps, I would have thought differently had I not come straight from reading Shogun. With Shogun there is far more about the local culture which I really enjoyed. This is primarily because Shogun is set in a world where there are a few foreign characters who have to adapt to the local customs to survive. This book is far more about a set of predominantly British characters shaping their own environment, against a Chinese background. (Although I did find the background information about the British and the opium trade interesting.)
Maybe I will pick this book up and try it again later. If I can soldier on a bit further the book might just catch my imagination as Shogun did. However, at the moment I don't feel any strong desire to attempt that.
on 6 June 2006
I was recommended this book by a friend of mine and started to read it with trepidation. (Long book and I was unsure whether I would be that interested in the era/genre).
However...by about page 50 or so, I was grabbed by the throat and dragged into a story line so compelling that I literally could not put the book down. I would challenge anyone with an ounce of imagination not to love this book.
on 14 December 2010
Tai-Pan is an epic tale of the swashbuckling Dirk Struan, founder of a British trading company, Noble House. It is set around the establishment of Hong Kong as an important trading post, opening up China to commerce. The book is a long one, but is rich in intrigue, historical detail, cultural detail, and strong characters. The cast of characters is a long one, and it takes some concentration to track who everyone is, and what their relationship with everyone else is. We have various characters from several trading companies, government officials, naval officers, various people who support the colony, such as an artist, prostitutes, priests and the like. We have various groups of Chinese, including several competing gangs, pirates, and others besides.
The author weaves the interests and activities of all of these people together with great intricacy. I have read quite a few historical novels, but this is the best one that I have read so far. I loved the book and strongly recommend it.
on 23 December 2008
I'm always a little hesitant when buying a book that was written so long ago, as I find they can be quite 'tame' when compared with modern equivalents.
How glad I am that a bought this book! It's absolutely brilliant - I couldn't put it down. It's quite a lengthy book, but that wasn't a problem as it's packed full of action and interesting Chinese cultural facts. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in ships and the British Empire - at the time of the establishment of Hong Kong as a colony.
Be warned though, once you have started reading this book, you won't want to put it down! This author has a very distinct writing style which I thoroughly enjoyed. My advice would be to buy now!
What a story! The sheer scope and richness of this tale kept me spellbound from cover to cover, dazzled by each fascinating detail and caught up in the sheer excitement and layer upon layer of intrigue. The monumental struggle between the coarse and vicious Brock and his mortal enemy, the mighty Tai-Pan Struan is almost archetypal in its impact and set against the brilliantly complete Chinese cultural backdrop this is a tale without a single flaw. At turns funny, sad and exhilirating, this is a novel that should be read by everyone, for it encompasses the best of life and I feel much the richer for it.
on 19 February 2015
This novel, I am pretty sure, is the greatest adventure story ever written. Quite a statement eh? It's a massive novel (drop it on your foot at your own peril) and yet you get to the end of this exciting, intriguing, devious, touching, humorous and danger-filled book and you simply just wish it went on forever - overall feeling kind of privileged to have found and read it!
Plots within plots. The exotic location and wonderfully interesting period in history. So much story and so many incredible characters to it that it's almost overflowing - but written so well you never lose sight of what is happening, who is who, their hidden motivations, their hopes, fears, loves, enemies and plans.
I just wish he'd written more novels and not spent so much time making or writing films!
He's the only author I know of that's written better adventure novels than the original three "Courtney" novels of Wilbur Smith. Yep, that good (in my opinion).
I read it first maybe fifteen years ago and I'm currently re-reading again, for maybe the forth or fifth time! I can imagine myself reading it as a hundred year old pensioner having one last adventure.
Ok, I've waffled enough, you get the picture. Buy it and read it, now