Author: Craig Shreve
Published by: Scribner on Aug. 1, 2023
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Simon & Schuster Canada
Book Rating: 9/10
Set in late 16th-century Africa, India, Portugal, and Japan, The African Samurai is a powerful historical novel based on the true story of Yasuke, Japan’s first foreign-born samurai and the only samurai of African descent—for readers of Esi Edugyan and Lawrence Hill.
In 1579, a Portuguese trade ship sails into port at Kuchinotsu, Japan, loaded with European wares and weapons. On board is Father Alessandro Valignano, an Italian priest and Jesuit missionary whose authority in central and east Asia is second only to the pope’s. Beside him is his protector, a large and imposing East African man. Taken from his village as a boy, sold as a slave to Portuguese mercenaries, and forced to fight in wars in India, the young but experienced soldier is haunted by memories of his past.
From Kuchinotsu, Father Valignano leads an expedition pushing inland toward the capital city of Kyoto. A riot brings his protector in front of the land’s most powerful warlord, Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga is preparing a campaign to complete the unification of a nation that’s been torn apart by over one hundred years of civil war. In exchange for permission to build a church, Valignano “gifts” his protector to Nobunaga, and the young East African man is reminded once again that he is less of a human and more of a thing to be traded and sold.
After pledging his allegiance to the Japanese warlord, the two men from vastly different worlds develop a trust and respect for one another. The young soldier is granted the role of samurai, a title that has never been given to a foreigner; he is also given a new name: Yasuke. Not all are happy with Yasuke’s ascension. There are whispers that he may soon be given his own fief, his own servants, his own samurai to command. But all of his dreams hinge on his ability to protect his new lord from threats both military and political, and from enemies both without and within.
A magnificent reconstruction and moving study of a lost historical figure, The African Samurai is an enthralling narrative about the tensions between the East and the West and the making of modern Japan, from which rises the most unlikely hero.
Evocative, suspenseful, and intense!
The African Samurai is a captivating, immersive, tragic tale that sweeps you away to Africa, India, and Japan in the late sixteenth century and into the life of a young African boy who, after being purchased by Portuguese mercenaries and forced to fight in the Indian wars finds himself on Japanese soil where he manages to ascend from a simple soldier to a revered samurai under the command of infamous warlord, Oda Nobunaga.
The prose is vivid and rich. The characters are haunted, scarred, and vulnerable. And the plot is an absorbing tale of all the hopes, fears, sacrifices, struggles, abuse, treachery, and violence faced by those taken, sold, and enslaved against their will.
Overall, The African Samurai is, ultimately, a story about strength, bravery, hope, heroism, survival, power, savagery, violence, ancient Japanese culture, and the unimaginable horrors and injustices of slavery. It’s an atmospheric, compelling, insightful tale by Shreve that does a beautiful job of highlighting his impressive research and considerable knowledge of this renowned iconic figure, Yasuke, who was the first and only samurai to ever be of African descent.
This novel is available now.
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Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.