Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
Heart of a Samurai is quite an amazing story, based on the life of Manjiro, who is but a lowly fisherman who dreams of becoming a samurai. This book is full of historical facts, both in geography and superstitious beliefs. It is followed by notes on who Manjiro grew up to be, as well as glossaries and bibliographies for samurais, whaling, the gold rush, and Japan. On an interesting note, it is believed that Manjiro is possibly the first Japanese person to set foot on American soil. Loved this book!
I got curious and went to look up more on the life of Manjiro, who became a teacher, translated American navigation books into Japanese, and wrote the first English book for Japanese, about how to learn the English language. Sadly, until the day he died, some still saw him as some kind of spy, and even had to hire his own bodyguards to protect him from assassination attempts. I found this amazing website with loads of info on both Manjiro and Captain Whitfield, the captain who saved Manjiro and his friends after being shipwrecked. They have even set up an Earthquake Relief fund to benefit the survivors of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
(from jacket cover)
In 1841, fourteen-year-old Manjiro and his four friends find themselves stranded on a deserted island after a storm at sea. Beyond the island is the unknown, filled with monsters, demons, and barbarians. Or so they have been told. They know they cannot return to their homes in Japan-the country's borders are closed both to foreigners and to citizens who have strayed. No one may enter, under penalty of imprisonment and even death!
One day an American ship passes near the island and takes the castaways aboard. Manjiro's curiosity overcomes his fear of the "barbarians." He joins in the work of the whaling vessel, eager to learn everything he can about this new culture. Over the next ten years, Manjiro travels the high seas, visiting places he never dreamed existed, including America. It is a time filled with new experiences and adventure, as well as friendship and treachery. Manjiro sustains himself on a dream of returning home and somehow-though he knows it is impossible for a simple fisherman-becoming a samurai.
Will he ever be able to go back to his native land? And if he does, will he be welcomed, or condemned?