Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus (Amulet, $15.95, ages 12 and up) on shelves beginning August, is reviewed today by Vinny from the San Gabriel Valley. Vinny will soon be a high school freshman, but this summer he’s currently enjoying volunteering for Arcadia Parks & Rec, biking, swimming and reading.
From a small fishing village in Japan came four individuals; a young boy named Manjiro, and his four friends, Jusuke, Denzo, Goemon, and Toraemon. They were fisherman. Simple. That was the class they were born into, and that was the class they would forever be… or so they thought. After being thrown off course while they were fishing off the coast of Shikoku, Japan, the five fisherman were left stranded on a, from what they knew, deserted island. It was what was visible for miles in the vast sea, and it was their only chance of survival due to the bird population of the island, hence the name Bird Island, commonly referred to in the story. Their boat was in pieces thanks to the harsh conditions that came upon them as the rapid current and strong winds took them away, far away, from Japan.
The fisherman took advantage of the heavy bird population on the island and ate what was left of them until there were no more. Killing anything that lived was, what many would think of as frowned upon by some Japanese, and short prayers were said commemorating the life of anything killed that once lived. There were many prayers to be said, and when almost all the fisherman were too energy deprived to even move, and all hope was gone, in the distance, headed toward the island on a ship was their only chance of survival. They were what the Japanese referred to as, Barbarians. Little did they know, and emphasis on that, these “barbarians” with piercing blue eyes, were really just Americans. It was due to the fact that Japan lived in isolation that the Japanese had no idea what lie beyond their country, in any direction. There were rumors that these Barbarians were “cursed” and it really is unfortunate how Japan wasn’t opened to the whole concept of foreigners and multi-cultural traditions in the first place that these Americans Manjiro and his friends saw were, what they perceived as, people who were trying to hurt them.
Throughout this incredibly inspirational novel, all of the fisherman become more adapt and open to the American way of life aboard a whale hunting ship called the John Howland. Young Manjiro earned the name John Mung during his experience on the ship, and from that time forward, that was all he was addressed as, except for his four friends, who still called him Manjiro. All five of the fisherman were exposed to what lie beyond Japan, and Manjiro, or John Mung, was the only one who really seemed to be open to it, to embrace it. It was evident too. He embraced the American life-style so much that, he accepted the offer to come live with the Captain of the John Howland, Captain Whitfield, whom he became particularly close with throughout his whole experience, which spanned quite a long number of years. It was hard making this decision, and having to leave his friends in present day Hawaii, when the ship came that direction. This was only for temporary, and Manjiro knew this and vowed that he would one day come back for his friends so they could return to their homeland. And they did, in the end. When they did, they parted their separate ways to see the families they had been longing to see for over a decade; the families they were to bring food home for, those many years ago.
They were welcomed home as, not cursed outsiders, but heroes, and forever would they be, as they were fisherman. All of men came home with heavy hearts, filled with longing and regret, and dignity, but overall, love. Young Manjiro, whom developed much over the past years, also came home with a heart such as this, but his heart was particularly genuine. It was the heart of a samurai, and samurai Manjiro became due to his efforts and accomplishments in the near future, which included influencing Japan to open its doors to outside influence from the world to. And even though he became the lowest rank of samurai, he WAS one, and most importantly, he proved that he, John Mung, could make a difference.
This was perhaps one of the best books I’ve ever read. I have to say that I greatly enjoyed having the honor to read and review this fantastic book. I enjoyed to so much, I couldn’t stop reading it, and finished it in three days. I would have read more each day, but I wanted to savor the story; let the suspense sink in. Yes, I would DEFINITELY recommend this book to you all- children and adults alike, so you too can read and become genuinely inspired by the true story of “the boy who discovered America,” Manjiro.