It seems that every culture has their own set of stories. Be they based on actual events or made up to explain the world around them; each is unique to that part of the world. For example China has their ‘Journey to the West’, America has ‘The Headless Horseman’, and in Japan they have the 47 Ronin.
The story described in 47 Ronin by John Allyn is one of the former. The events described did actually happen; the people in the book were real – history tells us that. It tells us of Lord Asano who drew his sword against Lord Kira inside the shogun’s castle, an serious offense. We know that Asano was then condemned to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) while his lands were confiscated and the samurai – along with their families – were cast out making them ronin or masterless samurai.
History also tells us how because these ronin could not outwardly seek revenge they banded together and made a blood pact. They would bide their time and wait for Lord Kira, who was expecting the ronin to seek their revenge, to drop his guard and allow them to attack. And wait they did – for two long years – in the meantime becoming teachers, merchants or monks to further the story that they had moved on.
It was just over two years later that the ronin were able to exact their revenge. Of the original three hundred samurai that swore allegiance to Lord Asano, forty seven actually attacked Kira’s compound. They killed numerous soldiers and finally Kira himself without losing a single one of their number.
The story of the forty seven ronin has been told countless times in plays, book and movies since the actual incident in 1703. This particular novel by Allyn is one more retelling of a well known story. While specifics have been lost to time, the general story remains and Allyn fills in the gaps admirably. Well versed in the Japanese culture he brings to life a world that has not existed for many years. He resurrects long dead persons with his words and makes them leap from the page.
The reader is pulled in the world of feudal Japan and made to gape with amazement how these men were willing to put everything on the line in the name of honor. While I have come across many versions of the famous forty seven ronin, this ranks up there with my personal favorites.
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