Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus is a novel based on a true story of a 14 year old boy who was shipwrecked on a deserted island in 1841. After surviving off of the local birds and fish, the boys are rescued by a passing ship. The problem: it’s an American ship full of barbarians! Manjiro fears for his life, but slowly he realizes the Americans are just like him and they are there to help them. He learns all about sailing and whaling.
After almost 2 years, the ship docks in Hawaii. His companions disembark here but Manjiro, who is a good friend of the captain’s, decides to travel on to America. Here, he sees things non-existent in isolationist Japan: a train, a carriage, kissing in public, free speech, non-existent social classes, a telegraph, a steam engine, and an elected President. He learns he can be more than just “a simple fisherman”. He can be whatever he sets his heart to.
After ten years away from home, Manjiro wants to return to Japan. Knowing he may be killed as Japan’s policy is to kill all those who have left Japan, he picks up 2 of his companions in Hawaii and heads home. The government holds him for almost a year and a half. Finally, he is released and returns home. His village has not changed and his family has grown up. However, he is summoned by the shogun (the ruler of Japan) back to Edo (Tokyo) to teach others English. Manjiro ends up translating for Commodore Perry in 1853 on his historic voyage which opens Japan to the outside world for the first time. He lives a long life, fulfilling his dream of changing the world by helping Japan to change.
On one occasion, Manjiro ends up in San Francisco looking for gold to finance his trip back to Japan. When he finds gold, he thinks, “So this is what dreams look like.” I loved this line because for all of us our dreams are usually small lumps of nothingness that we turn into great heaps of something.
Great book. Historically accurate to the time period and to the real Manjiro. Goes somewhat in depth into whaling and how even in this time period, whales are becoming scarce due to overhunting. Manjiro even calls the Americans “barbaric” for killing whales. Great historical notes at the end. Inspirational as Manjiro follows a dream to fruition and makes a difference in his world. Great underdog tale. Show the prejudices of the day as well. Shows the difficulties we all must overcome in this world. Highly recommended.