Heart of a Samurai

Written by Margi Preus
Review by Marion O’Sullivan Patricia O’Sullivan

Son of a fisherman, 14-year-old Manjiro dreams of being a samurai. But after being rescued from a shipwreck by an American whaling vessel, Manjiro is not sure he can ever return home to Japan, which is closed to foreigners and citizens who have had contact with foreigners. So Manjiro learns the ways of the Americans, even going to Fairhaven to live with them for a time. But, after years of satisfying his curiosity about this strange new land where progress is valued over tradition, Manjiro grows homesick and hatches a daring plan to get home.

I really enjoyed this story, which is based on the 1852 memoirs of John Mung, who is thought to be the first Japanese person to live in America. The combination of swift pacing and interesting details made it hard for me to put the book down. However, towards the end the story moves very quickly, skipping over years of Manjiro’s life in just a few sentences. While I understand that the author wanted to cover a particular time period without making the book too long, the end felt rushed. The most interesting aspect of the novel is the view of American culture from the Japanese perspective. Manjiro’s learning about America allowed me to reflect on aspects of American culture that I don’t often consider.

– Patricia O’Sullivan

In the year 1841, 14-year-old son of a fisherman, Manjiro, sets off with four others to find food for their families. What starts as a fishing trip turns into a challenge of life and death. The five fishermen are stuck on ‘Bird Island’ for months until an American whaling ship comes and rescues them. Traveling for almost a year on the sea, Manjiro decides to learn American ways by going to Fairhaven, Massachusetts with Captain Whitfield, who has become his dearest friend. Manjiro attends school, and works as an apprentice, and even has his own horse! However, as much as Manjiro loves America, he longs for his mother and siblings back in Japan. He fears he will never be able to return. Years later, Manjiro finds an opportunity to go back to Japan, but he must leave his family in America behind. Caught between two wonderful worlds, which will Manjiro choose?

Heart of a Samurai has to be one of my favorite books of all time. The story is touching and funny in the right parts and will keep a reader’s interest as well. It moves quickly without skipping over vital parts and tells the story perfectly without dragging it out. During the middle of the book, I could hardly stop reading because it was so enjoyable. I fully advise readers of all ages to pick up Heart of a Samurai because they will not be disappointed.

– Marion O’Sullivan, age 12