The Samurai of Seville

Written by John J. Healey
Review by Cynthia Slocum

East and West collide in 1615 when a group of Samurai warriors travels from Japan to Spain and later to Rome on a diplomatic trade mission that is marred by numerous tensions and a few grisly physical clashes between members of the two cultures.

Shiro, an inexperienced young nephew of the Samurai leader who arranged the expedition, possesses remarkable linguistic skills that put him at the center of interactions with local aristocrats, the King of Spain, and the Pope. He finds beauty in some aspects of this foreign world and repulsion in others, highlighting a profound contrast between the arrogant baroque European mentality and the keen but understated Japanese mindset.

As a perceptive observer of the “barbarians” he meets, Shiro politely stands apart from most of them, until he falls in love with Guada, and their relationship eventually transcends cultural differences and constraints.

Hatred and brutality, on the part of one upper-class Spaniard in particular, cause severe harm and suffering for Shiro, who is determined to obtain justice according to the Warrior’s Way no matter how long that may take. By the end of the book the Samurai has matured as a man and a warrior, and his experiences, for better or worse, have forever changed his life.

Using a lean, concise narrative style that manages to be lyrical at times, this story presents an absorbing view of the society of 17th-century Spain through a number of characters’ perspectives, conveying the spirit of the land and the essence of each vivid character enmeshed within a larger web of relationships and interests at stake.