Saturday, July 14, 2012

Heart of a Samurai, Margi Preus

Manjiro squinted across the expanse of glittering sea at the line of dark clouds forming on the horizon. “What lies there,” he wondered aloud, “across the sea?”

“Nothing you want to know about,” Denzo said, hurrying to hoist the sail. “Barbarians live there. Demons with hairy faces, big noses, and blue eyes!”

Fourteen year old Manjiro is a simple fishing boy in 1841 when he and four companions find themselves washed out to sea, and then thrown up on a deserted island. They know that they cannot return to Japan; anyone who leaves the country is not allowed to go back. But then they are rescued by the “barbarians”, Americans, on a whaling ship. Manjiro manages to overcome his fear of them (he is a naturally curious boy), and is soon helping with the chores of the whaling ship. The captain befriends him and takes him in, and over the next ten years, Manjiro discovers many new things and travels to many new places. He enjoys exploring, but he also dreams of going home to Japan and becoming a samurai (though he knows that this is impossible for a person of his social class.) And even if he does return, will he be welcomed or arrested?

The history of this book (also published by Abram’s) was really interesting. Apparently Manjiro was a real boy (some say the first Japanese boy to come to America, though I don’t know if that’s true), who was lost at sea and brought to America. So Heart of a Samurai had a lot of historical basis too. I also did not know that Japan was in isolation, refusing relations with other countries, for 250 years! That was quite amazing, that Japan would be so secluded. And the real Manjiro was a big part of helping Japan get out of that.

Heart of a Samurai also really emphasizes the way that Americans think that the Japanese are savage cannibals, and the Japanese think the Americans are barbaric monsters. They just haven’t had relations with one another, and they don’t know about each other. In any case, both the Americans and the Japanese do have good and bad sides. For example, the brutality of Westerners is highlighted in their gruesome way of hunting whales. But the Japanese also have a very rigid class system, making it impossible for a poor person to get rich. The dynamic there was interesting too. Heart of a Samurai was definitely an absorbing book, especially for someone who likes a book based on true historical events.

Read Heart of a Samurai:
  • if you are interested in Japanese-American history
  • if you like books based on true stories
  • if you like books about discovery and exploration
277 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

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