Manjiro Nakahama has been called “the boy who discovered America” as he is believed to be the first Japanese person to set foot in America. Prior to reading this book, I’d never heard of Manjiro or his is historical significance.
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus tells the brave and daring tale of Manjiro and his quest to return to his native home of Japan. The story begins in 1841, with fourteen-year-old Manjiro, a young fisherman who dreams of becoming a samurai. One day while out on a fishing trip with his friends, a terrible storm leaves them stranded on a deserted island far from the Japanese border. Due to Japan’s fear of outsiders influencing their culture, it has a closed border policy. No strangers can enter, and citizens who are gone from the country for too long are not permitted back. If they were to return to their home, they would be killed. But the world outside of Japan is filled with barbarians, monsters, and demons, or so they’ve been told.
When a “barbarian” whaling ship finds them on the island and takes them aboard, Manjiro’s life changes forever. He joins the crew, eager to learn all that he can about this strange new culture and spends the next ten years exploring the world. Although new and lasting friendships are formed, Manjiro still longs to return home to his family. He must decide if he is willing to risk his new life in America in order to find a way to journey home to Japan. And if he makes it, will he be welcomed or condemned?
Verdict: This action-packed historical novel is not only highly entertaining but educational as well. Through Manjiro first-person account, you learn about the similarities and differences of the American and Japanese cultures and how he helped to bridge the gap between the two nations. Within the pages of the book are pictures and illustrations from his actual journal. If you are looking for an entertaining adventure novel, then step inside Manjiro shoes and explore the high seas.