In 1611 an astonishing letter arrived at the East India Trading Company in London after a tortuous seven-year journey. Englishman William Adams was one of only twenty-four survivors of a fleet of ships bound for Asia, and he had washed up in the forbidden land of Japan.
The traders were even more amazed to learn that, rather than be horrified by this strange country, Adams had fallen in love with the barbaric splendour of Japan - and decided to settle. He had forged a close friendship with the ruthless Shogun, taken a Japanese wife and sired a new, mixed-race family.
Adams' letter fired up the London merchants to plan a new expedition to the Far East, with designs to trade with the Japanese and use Adams' contacts there to forge new commercial links.
Samurai William brilliantly illuminates a world whose horizons were rapidly expanding eastwards.
Following the success of Nathaniel's Nutmeg, Milton focuses on the exploits of another undiscovered historical personage to center a more expansive story. The individual is William Adams, and the larger narrative is the developing trade relationship between Japan and Western Europe. Adams arrived in Japan in 1600 after a death-defying 20-month voyage. Over the next two decades, he embraced Japanese culture, learned the language and rose to prominence in the court of the reigning Shogun, Ieyasu. His prominence allowed the English to outmaneuver the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch for access to Japanese markets. Much of Milton's story reflects the almost instinctive Western impulse to to take enormous risks in search of riches. The narrative is energized by his accounts of shipwrecks, gruesome deaths from disease and the predations of cannibalistic tribes who attacked ships stopping for provisions. He takes advantage of additional opportunities for gore when describing the dual nature of the Japanese society, highly cultured on the one hand, but barbaric and violent on the other. Milton also offers accounts of the sexual indulgences of the Europeans in Japan, often driven in equal parts by cupidity and concupiscence. In the end the efforts of the Europeans to open trade were futile because, as Milton notes, in 1620, after the death of Ieyasu, his heir closed Japan until the mid-19th century. Milton couches considerable scholarship in a vivacious and colorful narrative that will appeal to lovers of historical adventure. Illus.