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The Pure Land (Paperback)
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on 16 July 2007
As other reviews have suggested, this book does not appear to be a hugely faithful recreation of nineteenth century Japan. I am not an expert but there are several aspects that lack a ring of authenticity.
This is a great shame because it is otherwise a very entertaining book. The era is fascinating and the story is mostly very well done. There are a number of interesting and well-developed characters, although less so on the Japanese side if I'm honest.
So, in essence, a good page-turner if you can just overlook a few flaws.
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on 10 October 2006
The book is certainly exciting - or at least it coveys a sense of excitement and adventure of the ninenteenth century which has probably lost to us. But I could not continue reading, most likely because I am Japanese and there are so many little things in the story that have troubled me. The Japanese characters in the book keep saying 'hai, sodesu'. Well, this is what the Japanese might have said to the occupying Americans after WWII. People of the nineteenth century, certainly of the warrior class would not have spoken like this. While there were plenty of impoverished samurai around at that time, no daughter would be sent to a brothel without being cut off from the family, and the depiction of the first wife therefore is very unconvincing. I also sensed a hint of orientalism in his depiction of Japanese women. Well, men are always men, and Western men remains Western, it seems. And I am always puzzled with the over-appreciation of of the influence of Buddhism in Japanese society, present and past, by Western authors - believe me, if you go around saying 'existence is suffering', you would not start a quasi-revolution to modernise/Westernise a country. However, if you are not familiar with Japanese history and society, perhaps this reads like a great story.
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on 18 April 2009
A boring slog of a read lacking in both action and interest. Unconvincing and showing little grasp of Japanese culture in the 1860's.
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on 28 December 2007
I stumbled upon this book at the airport when I was looking for something to read to kill the waiting time, and what a find it was!

The story is set at the time a little prior to Tom Cruise's "The Last Samurai". Thomas Glover was a young clerk from Aberdeen, who grabbed the opportunity to work in the newly "opened" Japan in mid 19th century. Now this must have been an interesting time and place to be for an ambitious young man such as he. Since the Opium War in 1840 in neighbouring China, old fasioned Samurais are forced to come to terms that the mideval Japan is in no position to compete with the colonial West, who are eagerly anticipating to runsack and profeteer from Japan also. Civil war ensues, a country divided with those who want to rid themselves of the foreigners, and those who wish to modernise.

Glover throws himself into this world, makes friends and foes, advances himself from a mere clerk to a formidable man of influence who helps Japan become a modern nation, and still manages to find himself some pleasure and comfort in this strange land.

This is based on a true story and you will find his old home on a hill top which is now a museum in Nagasaki to comemorate his achievements. I have visited the place many times but without knowing the true nature of his success until I read the book, and it really made this most interesting bit of history alive to me. I look forward to the cinematisation of this story as promised on the author's note at the end of the book.

Minor criticism is that while the historical events seems mostly accurate, the Japanese conversation seems only a little improved version of that of "Shogun". The poetic translation and the nuances were really good and yet I found myself stumbling on the poor Japanese conversation, which was a real shame for me.

In the final few chapters, Mr Spence attempts to tie the loose ends together; Unfortunately the story of the formere mistress and her son seemed a little disjointed from the main story, though I liked the ambiance of the sorrow of missed opportunity and acceptance of such karma. I am also not too convinced of the title of the book, "the Pure Land", which is a buddhist term refering to afterlife and it seemed strange for describing the life of the man who seemed so "alive" in most of the book.

But overall, it was a gripping read and I applaud his efforts.
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on 26 June 2007
Let me just start by saying, this book is long! I admit I had high hopes after reading Memoirs of a Geisha and thought this may be along a similar wave length. In many ways it is. You follow the life of one man and see how his and other lives around him change after a life changing move to Japan.

I did skim read the odd paragraph that gave the details of the battles and war. And there were a couple of occaisions that I thought I couldn't be bothered to finish it. However I pushed on and was so glad I did by the end.

Read this if you are up for a long haul read!

You are transported at times to far off places and will want to know where the charcaters lives lead. But at times it may feel like watching the T.V show 'lost'. You want to know how it ends but are not sure you can be bothered with the journey.

If you start it, I recommend finishing it. It is worth the journey when you get there!
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on 10 February 2014
A compulsive read for the first 95% of the book but at the end it meanders and seems not to know how to close. That was disappointing. However the main body of the book moves along at a decent pace with plenty of plot although it is perhaps rather too easy to see where that is going on many occasions. I'm not too fond of the author's over-reliance on dream imagery but that's just a personal thing.

Thomas Glover is, of course, a real character from the time when Japan was opening up after centuries of being a closed society and the tales related of those times in the narrative are both compelling and - to a great extent - accurate.
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on 28 August 2009
I thought this book was very entertaining with characters you wanted to know. The plot was exciting and romantic, set in a fascinating time.
I am uncertain of the historical accuarcy (per the other comments) but found this book hard to put down. I would advise anyone who wants a good story pick up this book. It may be not be historically accurate, but certainly a good read
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on 6 January 2014
Started in a friend's house so bought it on Kindle to finish it. Thought it an excellent read. Characters full of life. Felt I should look into this bit of history to find out more... but not done that yet!
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on 27 March 2015
I enjoyed learning more of a very different culture, but not entirely comfortable with mix of fact and fiction.I recommend "The Three Bamboos"by Robert Standish for an impressive and memorable read.
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on 16 November 2013
Good, interesting story. Well written and an engaging read.I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about interesting and different life experiences.
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