Tag Archive | New England

Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus (book review) – first Japanese in America?

book cover of Heart of a Samurai by Margi PreusA true story becomes even more real in the hands of a talented author.

As we read Heart of a Samurai, we experience the horror that Manjiro and his fellow fishermen felt on the 1840s whaling ship, the sad knowledge that they are forbidden to return home to Japan by their own emperor, the prejudice that John Mung finds in his adoptive New England town.

Interesting to note that another young man was the first known Japanese to arrive in the US, several years before Manjiro, but Otokichi never returned to live in his homeland.

Yes, Heart of a Samurai is a Newbery Honor Book for 2011, but it isn’t yet the bestseller that it deserves to be.

Book info: Heart of a Samurai / by Margi Preus. Amulet, 2010. [author’s website] [author interview] [publisher site]

My Book Talk: Big-nosed barbarians! A ship larger than 7 fishing boats! Is it rescue…or capture? Young Manjiro was not sure what to tell the 4 other Japanese fishermen who had drifted to a rocky island after a storm in 1841, barely surviving.

But the captain of the American whaling ship is kind to them, and Manjiro begins to learn English and help aboard ship. The Japanese are horrified when whales are slaughtered only for their blubber, wasting enough meat to feed many villages. Alas, they will never see their home village again, since the Emperor has decreed that no Japanese that leaves their islands may ever return, just as no foreigners may ever enter that country.

Reaching Hawaii, Captain Whitfield gives the fishermen new clothes and money to help them settle there. He asks Manjiro if he would like to continue whaling and to go to America with him – as his son! Manjiro’s adventurous heart answers yes, and he becomes the first Japanese to visit the United States when their ship reaches New Bedford in 1843. Some folks accept John Mung (as his shipmates call Manjiro), but others do not.

When Captain Whitfield goes to sea again, he leaves John to look over the rest of the family. Working on the Whitfields’ farm, going to school, even riding a horse like a samurai – what other son of a village fisherman ever had such wealth and experiences?

After training as a navigator, John signs on with another whaling ship whose captain goes crazy when month after month passes with no signs of whales for capture. Will the crew of the Franklin survive? Can Manjiro ever return to Japan?

Based on a true story, this exciting book includes illustrations by Manjiro himself, plus glossaries of Japanese words, whaling terms, and sailors’ lingo. Travel the high seas during whaling’s glory days as you learn how a humble fisherboy grows up to have the heart of a true samurai. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com)