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Heart of a Samurai Hardcover – August 1, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 5 Up–A Japanese teenager living in the mid-19th century bridges two worlds in this stunning debut novel based on true events. Manjiro and his fellow fishermen find refuge on a remote island after a storm destroys their ship. When they are rescued by an American whaleboat captain and given the chance to return home with him, Manjiro accepts the offer. His encounters with a land that he has been taught is barbaric and his subsequent efforts to return to Japan shape him into an admirable character. Preus places readers in the young man's shoes, whether he is on a ship or in a Japanese prison. Her deftness in writing is evident in two poignant scenes, one in which Manjiro realizes the similarities between the Japanese and the Americans and the other when he reunites with his Japanese family. A sailor named Jolly and an American teen express the racism he experiences in America. Both of these characters gain sympathy from readers as their backgrounds are revealed, and as one of them comes to respect Manjiro. The truths he learns about himself and his fellow men and women are beautifully articulated. Manjiro's own drawings are well placed throughout the narrative and appropriately captioned. Preus includes extensive historical notes and a bibliography for those who want to know more about the man and the world in which he lived.Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Manjiro is 14 when a freak storm washes him and his four fishing companions onto a tiny island far from their Japanese homeland. Shortly before starving, they are rescued by an American whaling ship. But it’s 1841 and distrust is rampant: the Japanese consider the whalers barbarians, while the whalers think of the Japanese as godless cannibals. Captain William Whitfield is different—childless, he forges a bond with the boy, and when it comes time for Manjiro to choose between staying with his countrymen or going to America as Whitfield’s son, he picks the path of adventure. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story (although this fish goes into the water repeatedly), and it’s precisely this classic structure that gives the novel the sturdy bones of a timeless tale. Bracketed by gritty seafaring episodes—salty and bloody enough to assure us that Preus has done her research—the book’s heart is its middle section, in which Manjiro, allegedly the first Japanese to set foot in America, deals with the prejudice and promise of a new world. By Japanese tradition, Manjiro was destined to be no more than a humble fisherman, but when his 10-year saga ends, he has become so much more. Wonderful back matter helps flesh out this fictionalized version of the same story told in Rhoda Blumberg’s Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy (2001). Grades 7-11. --Daniel Kraus

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; 1 edition (August 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810989816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810989818
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #370,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A wonderful book, on a par with Jean Lee Latham's classic, CARRY ON, MR. BOWDITCH. It tells the true story of Manjiro, a Japanese boy who is swept out to sea in a fishing boat when he is 14 and gets rescued by American whalers. Manjiro learns English, becomes a sailor, travels all over the world, goes to school in America, signs on a whaling ship, even works the gold fields in California.

But the true significance of his story is how he became one of the first Japanese to appreciate and understand Western culture at a time when Japan had been closed to the West for 250 years. When the political climate finally begins to shift, and Japan decides to let American ships into their harbors, Manjiro is the one who helps them understand who the Americans are and what they want.

The title is a little misleading, unfortunately. The book has very little to do with actual Samurais. But as an historical novel for young adults, and as a story about hope and longing and cultural understanding, this is a great read. A must-have for any library.
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Format: Hardcover
In 1841, fourteen-year-old Manjiro worked as the youngest fisherman aboard a small Japanese boat with four other men. After a severe storm caused their boat to drift far out to sea, the men finally found shelter on a small deserted island. Not only did sheer survival prove a growing challenge, but the men had to face the nagging worry of how Japanese officials would treat them if they were rescued. The government had closed Japan's borders to all foreigners in the early 1600s, and anyone who left the country could be put to death upon returning to Japan.

After six grueling months living as castaways, Manjiro and his compatriots were rescued by an American whaling ship and brought to Hawaii. During this period the captain and Manjiro developed a father-son connection, so Manjiro continued the voyage with him to Massachusetts. Although Manjiro enjoyed life on the captain's farm and he learned quickly at school, the discriminatory treatment he faced in the community as the only Japanese boy prevented him from feeling completely at home. Year later, California's gold rush provided an opportunity to save enough money for returning home, but would the Japanese government permit him to re-enter the country after such a long time of living with the "barbarians"?

Middle grade readers will appreciate this engaging tale of a courageous child who survived near starvation on a deserted island, earned the respect of a bunch of rough sailors on a whaling ship, adapted to an entirely different culture, and risked execution for returning to Japan. Intrinsic to the storyline are a set of useful economics lessons about jobs, savings, and natural resources. The historical context provides an interesting opportunity to discuss the repercussions of sealing a country's borders to the outside world, an issue that is still relevant today.
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Format: Hardcover
As a mother who screens everything her 11-year-old daughter reads, I've been lucky in that said daughter generally devours even dry biographies with gusto - except that, for myself, I prefer *not* to read a biography that is scholarly: it reminds me too much of all the textbooks I've read in my own academic history! So, when "The Heart of a Samurai" was the book chosen for our book club, I admit to some initial eye-rolling on the side ... but, wow, I loved it! Loved it, loved it, loved it. We read the book right in the wake of the recent tsunami tragedy in Japan, and it just put us in a very good place to appreciate the strength of will and tenacity of the Japanese in the most bizarre circumstances. A good book, also a historical fiction, to compare with is "The Island of the Blue Dolphins" by Scott O'Dell. Karana, the heroine there, also had strength of will to survive her ordeal, which took place around the same time, just across the same ocean, but had not the same good fortune to have been picked up by kind Captain Whitfield: Majiro's remarkable story is not just one of incredible luck - clearly he was lucky in which ship picked him and his friends up - but it highlights his innate enthusiasm for all that is new and different. That he managed to be true to himself and his culture in the process is what makes him a true hero. The second part of the book did feel a bit rushed - but this was a very long story - and the parts about whaling need to be read without the shadow of 21st century sensibilities towards conservation and animal rights - but, ultimately, the book deserves a permanent place in the school curriculum. Said daughter, reading it just as she was studying medieval Japan, enjoyed it just as well:

"'The Heart of a Samurai' by Margi Preus is a really good book.
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Format: Hardcover
After being shipwrecked right at the opening of the story, Manjiro and his friends are rescued by the John Howland. The John Howland was a whaling vessel. It hunted whales for their blubber, baleen, and the spermaceti in the heads of the especially lucrative sperm whales. The descriptions of the hunting, killing, and butchering of the whales is not overly graphic, but as someone who grew up with an uncle down the street from Sea World (back when it was still an educational park rather than the kind of place that has roller coasters) and my own yearly unlimited pass, it was hard for me to read.

But whaling is an important part of this book. It is Manjiro's quick thinking during a kill, along with his ability to quickly pick up the English language, that earned him his American name, John Mung, and a permanent place among the crew. At the end of the John Howland's time at sea, the captain even adopts Manjiro, now John, and raises him as his own, providing him with the best schooling Massachusetts could offer, an apprenticeship, and even his own pony. John's time in Massachusetts is fraught with prejudice. He's certainly not warmly welcomed by the whole of his new community. He faces taunts and bullying, and the captain and his wife even have to change churches twice before finding one that will accept their adopted son.

John's maturity and nobility when dealing with all of this seems to stem from his desire to live up to all that the captain has given him. While this is wonderful and may even be true, I wish that John had more faults that just the propensity to bounce right off his pony. Throughout the book he has fears and hesitations and the story definitely has conflicts, but John Mung never really does.
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