Official Review: Toru by Stephanie R. Sorensen

Please use this forum to discuss historical fiction books. Common definitions define historical fiction as novels written at least 25-50 years after the book's setting.
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NadineTimes10
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Official Review: Toru by Stephanie R. Sorensen

Post by NadineTimes10 » 06 Mar 2018, 17:49

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Toru" by Stephanie R. Sorensen.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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Having lived in America for two years after a shipwreck, Tōru, a young fisherman, arrives back in his native Japan—and his life is immediately in danger. Mid-nineteenth-century Japan is an isolated country. The nation’s military leader, the Shogun, forbids the Japanese from returning to the land after traveling abroad. Even so, Tōru defies the law in hopes of saving his country in Tōru: Wayfarer Returns, an alternate history novel by author Stephanie R. Sorensen.

The Americans taught Tōru a great deal during his time overseas. He has learned to speak English and understands how American customs and ideologies differ from those in Japan, a much older nation. Tōru also gathered key information about technology in America. The young, industrialized country is determined to see Japan cease its isolation and open up for trade, even if America must force Japan to do so. Tōru believes it will take nothing less than modernization, an industrial revolution, for Japan to defend itself against foreign invasion. Unfortunately, guiding a revolution would be a challenge for Tōru, to say the least, when the sentence for his return to Japan is death.

With a display of juxtaposing images, this novel’s dramatic book cover accurately sets up the story. The samurai warrior represents longstanding tradition, and the dirigible in the sky forecasts an imminent, more modern era. The novel is rich with historical details of Japan, from locations and social customs to fashion and cuisine.

The author brings a mix of political intrigue among the samurai, violence and battle tactics, a thread of romance, and an eclectic cast of multi-class characters. While the story is firmly based in historical fact, and it even includes some actual historical figures, the author weaves speculation into the plot as it veers from history. Tōru’s ideas and motives especially illustrate how a nation might need to change its status quo to strengthen itself for the future.

Now, although it includes violence and intrigue, this book is not fast-paced or action-packed overall. Most of the story moves at an unhurried, contemplative pace. However, one aspect of the story rushes in a glaring way. In realistic terms, it would take years to implement an industrial revolution on the scale this novel describes. This would be particularly true for a nation that has long been removed from advancing technology and does not have all of the necessary supplies. What should progress over the course of years takes far less time in this book.

While the novel is written in English, the characters are supposed to be speaking only in Japanese for most of the story. Hence, it seems strange whenever they repeat themselves in dialogue, first saying phrases in Japanese, and then, in essence, interpreting themselves in English. Moreover, because the story is set in the 1850s, it seems less than fitting that some of the novel’s quotes are from contemporary figures, at a few of the chapter openings.

Nevertheless, despite its flaws in timing and other technical weaknesses, this novel thoughtfully portrays real and imagined history, highlighting a relevant theme of social change. Therefore, I give Tōru: Wayfarer Returns a rating of 3 out of 4 stars. I'd recommend it to historical fiction and alternate history fans, especially those with an interest in premodern Japan.

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Post by 77Yahdaughter » 07 Mar 2018, 08:10

Excellent review! NadineTimes10

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Post by kandscreeley » 07 Mar 2018, 08:16

Sometimes books with slower paces are a good change of pace (pun intended.) However, this one sounds like it has a few issues that would bother me (namely the repetitive nature of the dialogue.) I don't think I would enjoy this one, but I appreciate the information in your review. Thanks.
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Post by Jaime Lync » 07 Mar 2018, 08:25

Great review. I agree with Kandscreeley all the way, the repetitive dialogue is a super turn off.
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Post by Jkhorner » 07 Mar 2018, 09:56

Perhaps alternate historical fiction is a good genre slot for this one if some elements seem out of place. It sounds interesting, and a slower pace would certainly fit an old country's slow awakening to modern technology! While annoying, I kind of understand the author's desire to remind the reader often that the characters are speaking Japanese. Of course, there may be far better ways of showing that than to simply repeat phrases. Thank you for the honest review!

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Post by Ceejayy11_ » 07 Mar 2018, 13:31

It sounds interesting, and a slower pace would certainly fit an old country's slow awakening to modern technology! While annoying, I kind of understand the author's desire to remind the reader often that the characters are speaking Japanese.

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Post by KFree_Reads » 07 Mar 2018, 13:38

Nice review! I really like the book's cover. It caught my attention right away. The plot sounds pretty interesting. I think it would make a great movie too!

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Post by MsTri » 07 Mar 2018, 14:45

I don't normally read historical fiction - especially if it takes place outside of America - but you made a really great case for this one and I'm intrigued. I wonder how Toru handles getting anything done when he's not even supposed to be in Japan! I won't drop everything to read this, but it is on my back-burner now.

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Post by NadineTimes10 » 07 Mar 2018, 15:50

Gee, I hope I didn't make it sound like the characters repeat everything they say, since that's not the case! :lol2: And there are places where the sprinkling in of Japanese words works, like for words that don't exactly have a direct English equivalent. They just are what they are in Japanese. :)

And, yeah, I didn't want to gush too much in a formal review, but the book cover is all kinds of AWESOME. Definitely on point!

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Post by Sanderson6 » 07 Mar 2018, 19:42

A very thorough review! I like the sound of the political intrigue, and for books like this I think that a slower pace works really well. Definitely a book to look into :)

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Post by NL Hartje » 07 Mar 2018, 21:29

I think I would enjoy this book. Submersions in other cultures always make for a higher level of intrigue for me. Thank you for this review!
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Post by Irene C » 08 Mar 2018, 10:38

What an interesting story. You are right that there are ways to handle foreign (to the readers) dialogue poorly, but it sounds like that technical flaw doesn't take away from the story too much. I think the slower pace sounds like it fits the setting. I'll definitely put this one on my shelf.

Thanks for the review.
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Post by Kiboko1 » 08 Mar 2018, 12:41

I've made up my mind that tommorrow after finishing up reading my current book 'To kill a mocking bird' am reading Toru as my next book

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Post by NadineTimes10 » 08 Mar 2018, 15:40

Kiboko1 wrote:
08 Mar 2018, 12:41
I've made up my mind that tommorrow after finishing up reading my current book 'To kill a mocking bird' am reading Toru as my next book
I hope you enjoy it! :)

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Post by Hollyp1229 » 08 Mar 2018, 17:15

If you are looking for a slow-paced, descriptive book, this is the one for you. Although it is quite interesting, I kept finding myself nod off at the occasional dragged on scene.

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