October 28, 2002 12:00 PM

By Takashi Matsuoka

Page-turner of the week

The adventure-chasing spirit of James Clavell (Shogun) lives in this triumphant debut novel about feudal Japan. Set in the 1860s (a period Clavell covered in Gai-Jin), the novel conjures up an utterly convincing atmosphere of a nation seething with conflict after being forced open to the outside world by the American Navy in 1854. A nobleman named Genji, who, like others in his family, is cursed with the gift of prophecy (though his muddled visions of the future don’t always help him arrive at the right decisions), tries to survive the power politics of his fellow aristocrats. Genji finds himself playing host to a group of Christian missionaries from America, most of whom have motives other than merely spreading the Good Word. This is a riveting read, alternately playful (a meeting of geisha and missionary woman is a real chuckle) and suspenseful (the prophecies that torment Genji’s family begin to play out in disturbing ways). Just as skillfully drawn is Matsuoka’s penetrating depiction of an old world order grudgingly giving way to the new. (Delacorte, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Terrific visit to the Pacific

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