Book review: ‘Chojun’ by Goran Powell
By Spencer Klein
Karate has become a worldwide phenomenon. It was no coincidence the creators of the original “Karate Kid” films chose the name Mr. Miyagi for their karate master. The real Mr. Miyagi, Chojun Miyagi, was the founder of one of the foremost styles of karate, Goju Ryu karate.
In the novel “Chojun,” author Goran Powell — a 4th dan black belt master — tells the story of the battle of Okinawa, Miyagi and the spread of karate across the globe. He invents characters, dialogue and actions and uses historical events to shape his characters. Apparently, the real-life Miyagi was a modest man who did not advertise his school, rarely gave public karate demonstrations and did not fight matches with other martial artists — hardly the protagonist of an exciting adventure story.
Powell gets around this by creating Kenichi Ota as the book’s narrator, an Okinawan youth that becomes Miyagi’s No. 1 karate student. He fights with the Japanese army during the battle for Okinawa, survives the battle and brings Goju-Ryu karate to the West. Through Ota’s eyes, we see his master Miyagi search for perfection in his practice of martial arts and learn the philosophical basis for his style of karate. The story ends with Ota understanding that to survive and spread, karate must overcome the bitterness caused by events of the war and ancient prejudices. Ota comes to Hawaii and starts a karate school open to all.
I cannot recommend this book to the casual reader. It is not that Powell is a bad author, as his prose is well-written and his story moves along. The real issue is the central character of Ota. He is not a compelling character and given the titanic events in his lifetime, he should have been. During the war years terrible things happen to people that surround him, but the way the author describes those events and Ota’s reactions to them make him seem like a passive observer. The result is an oddly flat main character.
The novel is a quick read, but does not stay with you five minutes after you put it down. Unless you have a special interest in a fictionalized account of Chojun Miyagi and karate, this is not the book for you.
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