Eiji Yoshikawa – Musashi (1935)
Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic novel was originally published in Japan in the 1930s in serialised form with the first English translation not appearing until the 1980s. Yoshikawa’s novel is a fictionalised account of Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary swordsman and philosopher in Japanese history who authored the text, The Book of Five Rings, in his latter years. Renowned as an exemplary swordsman, wielding two blades simultaneously, Musashi also had an unenviable record in duels against a variety of opponents. I love many things about Japan and with a fondness for history as well, this book presented a great opportunity to learn about one of the Japanese legends.
Yoshikawa’s novel opens with the aftermath of the Battle of Sekigahara which was fought in 1600. Wandering away from the battle are two friends – Takezo and Matahachi – and it is from their early exploits that events ultimately lead to the birth of Miyamoto Musashi, who then forms the focal point of our story. Wandering the shogunate lands of Japan, Musashi searches for insights, hones his craft with the sword and interacts with a myriad of characters, such as wannabe apprentices, samurai eager to test their mettle against him, vengeful acquaintances of old, and love interests to boot. There is plenty to keep Musashi busy on his journey and plenty more to bring it to an early end.
I listened to Musashi on Audible and found it thoroughly enthralling from start to finish. A rich array of characters are dotted throughout Musashi’s journey and we only get to partake of his early years as his fame grows and word spreads of his deeds. I found the novel to be generally well-paced, though the second half did sometimes have the odd plodding moment. Characters sometimes disappeared from the narrative with their stories being picked up further down the timelines so one needs to be fully alert as they are going through the story. Although Musashi is our primary focus, the story does switch to other characters who are key to Musashi’s journey.
Verdict: If you want a novel that offers great dialogue, breathtaking battles and has room for a little romance then you can do no wrong with Musashi. Well worth your time.