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Commodore Perry’s Minstrel Show by Richard Wiley

December 31, 2012

This is the best book by the best writer you have never heard about: five years ago this book topped my end of year list and even now it remains one of the top novels I have read in the new century, at the time of its release it received some good reviews – it was a starred review on Publishers Weekly – but not enough to bring it to the attention of the general reading public, so repeating the pattern of previous works by Wiley, whose debut novelSoldiers in Hiding – won the Pen/Faulkner Award in 1987. Commodore Perry’s Minstrel Show is an historical novel set in Japan, the year is 1854 and the country has refused for centuries any kind of relationship with foreign people and powers, Commodore Matthew C. Perry is the commander of the American naval expedition with the charge to obtain a trading agreement to open Japanese ports to the United States. History tells us Perry did a serious work of research before leaving for Japan, to learn its complicated hierarchical structure ans social habits and reading this novel by Richard Wiley makes it pretty clear that our author has done serious work here too, though the scope of the book goes beyond historical accurateness, if you want history don’t read novels. The story – and the title of the book of course – refers to a minor episode of Perry’s expedition: to facilitate contact between cultures he had on board some entertainment acts, the adventures and the unexpected contacts of this part of his crew with the Japaneses constitute the story of Wiley’s novel. Commodore Perry’s Minstrel Show isn’t a novelistic commentary on Huntington’s clash of civilizations, but its strength is to describe with wit, humor and emotion how difficult and risky is the the contact between different cultures, Wiley manages to do this with an original narrative structure, a memorable cast of characters – both American and Japanese – a secure pace and rich and beautiful language, this is a minor masterpiece who deserves to be known by a wider public, everyone who has enjoyed David Mitchell‘s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet will find here much to appreciate (and a better novel).

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2 Comments
  1. Richard Wiley permalink

    Dear Damirio,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comments on my novel, Commodore Perry’s Minstrel Show. I was very sorry that the book didn’t receive much public attention… it took me over a decade to write the thing… but your kind word have launched 2013 in a very good way for me.

    Bless you,

    Richard Wiley

    • ismokecigars permalink

      Thank you so much for your comment! I’m so glad it came to your attention, I have read Soldiers in hiding and Ahmed’s revenge too, I really love your work and I’m sure that with a little bit of luck – a filmmaker reading the book or something like that – it will receive the level of recognition it deserves, alas the majority of American novels nowadays tend to be insular, while your books have an European feeling of the world (I mean it as a compliment of course!).

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