Heart of a Samurai
written by Margi Preus
(Amulet Books) 2010
Source: Graham Public Library
I rarely read novels these days since I am working with kindergarten students, but I needed a book for a plane ride and Heart of a Samurai had just won a Newbery Honor Medal so I was fortunate to get a copy through my local library. I could not put this book down. It is the true story of Japanese fisherman Manjiro Nakahama. As a 14 year old in 1841, he is marooned on a deserted island along with four other fisherman. Near death, they are rescued by an American whaling vessel where Manjiro is taken in by the ship's kindly captain and taught the ways of a whaler. It is this clash of cultures East and West that helps drive this story. Manjiro is torn between wanting to know more about the world and staying true to his Japanese roots. It reminds me of Allen Say's Grandfather's Journey in this sense. Manjiro and his fellow fishermen are taken to Hawaii where they are allowed to stay since Japan would not accept them back into the country once they have encountered Western people. Captain Whitfield asks Manjiro to live with him in America and Manjiro accepts this offer. Eventually the lure of a life at sea pulls Manjiro back to a whaling boat and a path towards a possible trip back to his homeland.
Margi Preus does a great job of storytelling. I appreciate how she explains in the author's notes about what is real in her story and what has been added to move the plot along. Manjiro's story is incredibly intriguing with the reader wondering throughout if he will be able to live a life that accepts both of the worlds that he loves. If you teach 19th century history or are just a history lover like me, this should be on your list of books to read.
Other reviews of Heart of a Samurai:
Brentwood Public Library