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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In this sweeping historical novel, Craig Shreve tells the riveting tale of a most unusual warrior. At the age of 12, a boy’s life is changed forever when he’s ripped away from his African village by enslavers and trained as a soldier. With his training, he becomes the protector of a powerful Jesuit priest on a mission to the Far East. But his world is turned upside down once again when he’s offered as a gift to a warlord determined to unify Japan, and even given a new name: Yasuke. Shreve paints this story with the rich, vivid colours of 16th-century history, chronicling Yasuke’s unlikely journey to become the first foreign-born samurai with texture and grit. On top of exciting battles and fascinating glimpses into Japanese culture, Shreve takes us into Yasuke’s mind, letting us feel his loneliness and loss firsthand. Fictional heroes have their place, but this story based on real life will leave you speechless.