Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: Samurai Women by Stephen Turnbull

Title: Samurai Women 1184-1877
Author: Stephen Turnbull
Illustrator: Giuseppe Rava
Genre: History
Publisher: Osprey
Published: 2010

Rating: 6 out of 10

This is the second Osprey book I have read, out of the huge pile that awaits me. I suppose I'll just pick one up every now and then when I feel in the mood for a bit of quick, but very detailed, history. Maybe I'll have read all of them in ten years.

I liked this writer better than the last one I sampled (Carola Vogel: The Fortifications of Ancient Egypt 3000 - 1780 BC), and again, the addition of illustrations was one that I really appreciated. The visual aides in this book mainly consisted of photos of museum relics and historical artwork, but there were occasional drawings that took up a whole page, and I loved them. The illustrator, Giuseppe Rava, did a great job, though I didn't get why his work was placed on the page diagonally.

At the beginning of the text, Turnbull calls the female samurai warrior "a very elusive creature," and this shows itself to be quite true. I have studied Japan during the samurai times pretty heavily, but have never heard of actual female samurais.
On the next page, there is a time-line listing events involving woman warriors. Even though the book spans nearly 700 years, only 8 specific women are named.

The title doesn't need any inventive subtitles to make it sound appealing - "Samurai Women" in the context of a history book already sounds fascinating enough. However, it turned out that none of the ladies featured were actually samurai. There was a queen, and one or two deemed "warriors," and a handful of women who seek violent revenge, bravely commit seppuku (the customary, ritual Japanese way of suicide by disembowelment, considered synonymous with honor), defend their castles in the absence of a male figure, or finish their husband's feuds when their spouses perish.
I felt that the author didn't have enough material to create enough of a 'history book' on the topic. The book was very short, but still felt stretched out.

It also ended rather abruptly, and I hate coming across that in non-fiction. Maybe it's just that I'm more accustomed to reading fiction, where a "The End" closing scene is present 99% of the time. But then again, I don't think it would be all that difficult to tie up the book with a nice, conclusive paragraph or two.