In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry steamed into Edo Bay and "opened" Japan to trade with America. As entertainment for the treaty-signing ceremony, Perry brought a white-men-in-black-face minstrel show—and thereby confirmed the widely whispered Japanese belief that trade with the American "barbarians" could only lead to cultural ruin. Yet the pawns in this clash of cultures—the minstrels, Ace Bledsoe and Ned Clark, and the Japanese interpreter, Manjiro Okubo—are just slightly more curious than cautious. Within the minstrels Manjiro sensed "the subtleties of spirit that reside in all good men." When Ace and Ned are unwittingly made part of a Japanese plot to undermine the American presence, Manjiro helps them escape into the countryside. Pursued by samurai, torn between treachery and loyalty, Manjiro and the minstrels (along with family, friends, and lovers) make their way across Japan, fleeing a showdown with the samurai that gradually becomes inevitable.
Commodore Perry's Minstrel Show is the long-awaited prequel—more than a decade in the making—to Richard Wiley's PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel, Soldiers in Hiding. A sword-swinging page-turner infused with a heady mix of Japanese etiquette, American ideals, and Machiavellian philosophy, Wiley's latest novel sparkles as it shapes history into an enlightened drama of the earliest moments of globalization.
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RICHARD WILEY is Professor of English and Associate Director of the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas. His previous novels include Soldiers in Hiding (winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award), Fools’ Gold, Festival for Three Thousand Maidens, Indigo, and Ahmed’s Revenge.From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. In 1854, when the U.S. Navy's Commodore Perry sailed into Edo (now Tokyo) with the grand goal of opening Japan to trade, he brought major change and minor entertainment—a black-face minstrel show that amazed and perplexed its audience. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Wiley, shifting perspectives with deft ease, follows two fictional white minstrels, Ace Bledsoe and Ned Clark, as they confront Japanese society, while he subversively engages the reader in a deeply allegorical reading of cultural exchange. Ace and Ned come under the wing of interpreter Manjiro Okubo, whose powerful family is locked in an old clan rivalry. The rivals' plot to kidnap musicians sets off a train of events romantic and tragic, with touches of Keystone Kops: with tantalizing authorial discretion, lovers enjoy one another, villains flash lethal swords, beauty balances bawdy, and rivalries and enmities explode. (Readers need not have read Wiley's PEN/Faulkner Award–winning Soldiers in Hiding, for which this novel is a way-back prequel.) This absorbing and immensely pleasurable book achieves momentum through Wiley's fluid style, the lightness with which he bears his learning, and the vitality and wit with which he brings a vanished world to life. (Mar.)
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