Margi Preus’s novel “Heart of a Samurai” is a captivating book about the journey of Manjiro, a young Japanese fisherman, finding his way back home to Japan. Inspired by true events, characters, and history, the story starts in 1841 with Manjiro and his shipmates stranded on an island after a storm at sea. Japan during this period had closed all ports to the outside world and taught their citizens that foreigners were demons and barbarians. The men face a dilemma as the only ship that comes and saves them off the island is one of foreigners.
However, Manjiro’s curiosity overcomes his fear and allows him to quickly learn their culture and language. He follows the captain of the ship to America where his new life begins as well as his efforts to return home.
While the main story is about his journey home, other themes within the story shine as well. The idea that anything is possible is a strong belief that Manjiro learns in America. Manjiro’s dream was to become a respected samurai, but Japan and its strong caste system did not allow poor, lowly fisherman to achieve such status. However, through his experience in America, Manjiro learns to fight against it. The book nicely captures the direct feelings of Manjiro as he continues to live in this foreign land.
The main thing that attracted me to this novel was seeing my own personal childhood hero come alive through this story. It brought to me a sense of nostalgia and the realization that I am not different from Manjiro and his troubles fitting in.
This book nicely encapsulates the Asian immigrant experience, both the benefits and struggles, making it an enjoyable read. Overall, “Heart of Samurai” is a fascinating book that transports the reader into the heart of Manjiro’s touching journey as the first Japanese in America. Although, the novel is intended for a young audience, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all ages.