Arnold Author's Novel Re-examines Legendary Episode

January 18, 1991|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

Readers who pick up Arnold-based Lucia St. Clair Robson's new book, "The Tokaido Road," expecting to find a distaff version of James Clavell's "Shogun" are going to be disappointed.

But readers with the patience and insight to see the story unfold with a clear eye can look forward to an enthralling experience.

To be published at $19.95 by Ballentine Books, "The Tokaido Road"should be released between mid-February and March 1.

Part sociology, part travelogue and part adventure, the novel provides an interesting perspective on the Japanese culture of the period. It also provides a new look at one of the most legendary episodes in feudal Japanese history: the story of the 47 Ronin (masterless samurai).

The historical basis of the novel is well-documented.

In the early 18th century, a nobleman named Lord Asano was tricked into an act of violence within the walls of the Imperial palace in Kyoto by his enemy, Lord Kira. To atone for this act of treason and impiety, he was forced to commit suicide.

Asano's 47 samurai retainers disguised their plans for revenge in drinking and debauchery for several years. When finally ready, they attacked and killed Lord Kira, and placed his head at the grave of Lord Asano. Then, their honor finally satisfied, theycommited ritual suicide en masse.

But in Robson's book, history makes a slight bow to fiction as she creates one of her typical strongheroines in the form of Asano's daughter, Lady Asano Golden Plum.

Frustrated by the apparent failure of her father's men to immediately take revenge, she decides to take charge of things herself.

Escaping from her life as ahigh-ranking courtesan known as Cat, she begins a 300-mile journey on the Tokaido Road to Kyoto.

Cat is an interesting character, a resourceful adventurer and a deadly opponent.

She dominates a number of difficult situations, either with her agilewit or her devastating naginata, a distinctive type of pike resembling a short sword stuck to a long handle.

Robson's previous novels,"Ride the Wind," "Walk in My Soul" and "Light a Distant Fire," dealtwith American Indian themes, a longtime interest of the author.

She cited a number of inspirations for this book.

The most recent came in 1987, when she had just completed her third book, "Light A Distant Fire," and didn't know what to write about next.

Knowing of her interest in Japanese history, a friend, science-fiction writer Brian Daley, suggested this story.

The author lived in Japan from 1970-1972 while her then-husband served in Vietnam. Living near Hiroshima, Robson taught English and traveled the countryside, including trips to several locations where the Asano saga took place.

"It just keeps resurfacing in my life," she said of the ancient Japanese saga."In 1970 I went to

Tokyo to the temple where their tombs are."

Twenty-five years earlier, a chance visit to a Berkeley, Calif., movie theater introduced Robson to a Japanese film about the 47 Ronin. The author was so impressed with the story that she sat through the 3 -hour movie a second time.

"Since then," she said, "I've been a real fan of samurai movies."

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