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Passport: China: Review: Noble House by James Clavell

Submitted by on April 27, 2011 – 4:00 amOne Comment

Author: James Clavell
Book: Noble House
Release: July 1 1981
Series: The Asian Saga
Source: Personal Library
Purchase: – Book Depository

The setting is Hong Kong, 1963. The action spans scarcely more than a week, but these are days of high adventure: from kidnapping and murder to financial double-dealing and natural catastrophes—fire, flood, landslide. Yet they are days filled as well with all the mystery and romance of Hong Kong—the heart of Asia—rich in every trade…money, flesh, opium, power.

When Day said our next Passport destination would be China, two things came to mind, and James Clavell’s Noble House. Now, since The Last Emperor is a movie, I’ll pass and say – watch it. It is an amazing movie and the soundtrack is superb too.

As for , as one friend and co-book lover said to me just last week – it’s a classic. One of those books you come by upon occasion and then go back to whenever you feel like reading a grand saga. Those of you who have read James Clavell’s series will probably be saying right about now: But it’s Japan, not China! – Not so! The Asian series, Noble House being book four in the series, takes place in both Japan and China and Noble House focuses on Hong Kong.

Yes, at the time the book was written Hong Kong was still in British hands (seriously, biggest mistake they ever made, who leases an Island for 100 years???) but China, its culture and its people are very much a part of Hong Kong and visa versa.

So what is Noble House? Well, it is traditionally Hong Kong’s oldest and/or most prestigious trading house. Led by a ‘Tai Pan’ – Cantonese term for the leader of a western trading company operating in China or Hong Kong in the 19th century (also known as Hong). While this is an honorary term, it also carries great power. The Noble House and its Tai-Pan are Hong Kong, and of course, someone is always there hoping to topple the Noble House and take its place.

In our book, set in 1960 a new Tai Pan has just taken over the Noble House of Struan’s – Ian Dunross Struan wants to take Struans and the Noble House into the future, as his predecessor is leaving Struans in a weak financial position – he decides to do the unthinkable and take the company public.

Three years later and Tai-Pan Ian Dunross is getting ready to make the deal of a lifetime with US Millionaire Lincoln Bartlett, head of Par-Con Industries. A deal that would cement his position for years to come, but what he doesn’t know is that Linc and Casey Tcholok, Linc’s sexy vice president aren’t just looking to make a deal with him…

Enter Quillan Gornt, Tai-Pan of Rothwell-Gornt, the eternal rivals of Struans (from previous books as well) and the man who wants to overtake the position of Noble House of Hong Kong. He is also negotiating with Par-Con without Ian’s knowledge…

Now, add in a bit of Chinese and Russian espionage, opium and drug trade, a love story or two and you have the nearly 1500 page saga that is Noble House. But I promise – 1500 pages will feel like 50, this book flies by and it is a trip of a lifetime!

The characters as written by Clavell are all multi-dimensional, yes, there are ‘baddies’ and ‘goodies’ but no one is 100% of either. From Ian to Quillan to Four Finger Wu and Orlanda – everyone is hiding something, saying one thing while meaning something entirely different, good, bad, ugly, pretty… this story has it all.

My favorite part though, is the fact that you get to see how culture plays a huge role in everything we do – from our daily lives and even in business dealings. China’s culture – both its positive and negative elements are very much a part of doing business with the Tai-Pans. As the reader, you get the learning experience through Casey and Linc’s eyes.

Clavell’s writing style is easy to follow and sucks you right in from page one. Obviously, the minute you finish Noble house you’ll want to grab previous books in the series – , , and books that follow Noble House – and .

But of them all, Noble House is still my #1. Could this be because I shall now and forever connect Ian Dunross Struan with Pierce Brosnan thanks to the mini-series based on the book (which took Noble House to a very Dynasty like 80s)? Maybe… But I think it has more to do with the fact that Hong Kong has always been on my “must visit” list. As a daughter of someone who travels frequently to Hong Kong for business I have always been fascinated with the Island where East truly meets West and where East has shaped West into its own creation.

And so, I will sign off by hoping that you shall always have good ‘Joss’ (luck) in the books you read… read this one, you’ll thank me later ;)

Happy Reading!

P.S – for more info about the real Tai-Pan’s and Noble Houses of Hong Kong – yes, Clavell based his book on the leading Hong Kong trading houses – Jardine Matheson and Swire Pacific check out this link or this one.

Noa first fell in love with books when she discovered 100 acre wood and its inhabitants. To this day, the last pages of “The House at Pooh Corner” make her cry. In a good way. From“Calvin and Hobbes” to “The Iliad and the Odyssey” and lets not forget “Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes”. Biographies, mysteries, history books and romances all have a place on her bookshelves. Who needs furniture? This 29 year old singleton’s dream is to invent the zero-calorie chocolate. But until that day arrives, she tries to create sweet confections with whatever chocolate she can find. An MA in conflict studies (need a mediator?) means Noa loves a good debate, especially when she wins. If she were in charge, books would be free for everyone.
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