Set in 1853 in Japan, this novel follows Yoshi, a Japanese boy who dreams of someday becoming a samurai. Unfortunately, as part of the serving class, Yoshi can never become a warrior. He is taken up by Manjiro, the protagonist of Preus’s Heart of a Samurai, and becomes his servant and secret watchdog. Meanwhile, Commodore Matthew Perry and his USS Susquehanna squadron of steamships arrive in Edo Bay demanding “diplomatically” that Japan open its ports to foreign trade. Aboard the commodore’s flagship is a cabin boy, Jack, who becomes separated from his American companions while on shore. When he and Yoshi cross paths, they set out on a grand adventure to get Jack back to his ship before he is discovered by the shogun’s samurai.
I'd loved Heart of a Samurai, so I was excited to read The Bamboo Sword. The book opens in Japan in the 1850s. Although Nakahama Manjiro returns to Japan in The Bamboo Sword, this time, Its hero is thirteen-year-old Yoshi, a peasant who dreams of fighting like a samurai, who is the main protagonist. Yoshi was orphaned and given employment by the local samurai family. He does errands and cares for the son of the house, and as he does so, he watches their lessons in martial arts, bushido and sword play. Though Yoshi knows his position will never change, he loves practicing the sword moves with his own "bamboo sword". Things change drastically when the barbarian sailors come to the port and his young master decides to flee. Yoshi helps him but doesn't expect his own life to be so much worsened in the bargain. Yoshi and his friend Jun run away to the harbor where they observe the "hairy ones" aboard their ship.
Another young hero from America is thirteen-year-old Jack Sullivan, who works as a cabin boy and a powder monkey on the Black Ship that's sailed into Japan's harbors. Their captain and crew have gun powder and cannons and are preparing to make their mark and their fortune in the heathen East under the command of Commodore Perry. Though the language and attitudes are historically accurate, I couldn't help but wince when they talk about killing slant-eyes, and the like. Being Asian myself, I couldn't help hoping that they'll get their comeuppance.
I loved The Bamboo Sword, but it is hard to share what I loved about it without revealing plot points. It's helpful to note that much of the story is rooted in research. So, what did I particularly enjoy? The two boys, Yoshi and Jack, both on their own and the story of their friendship. I appreciated how Preus masterfully wove in details about samurai weapons, armor, skills and training as well as the social and political restrictions under the political regime in Japan at the time of the Tokagawa Shogunate. The wood block prints depicting scenes of Japan, its people and the events. The description of the Shogun's castle from the perspective of a young first time visitor. The adventure that she gives to young Yoshi and Jack is both entertaining and plausible. The Bamboo Sword is a keeper!
About the Author:
is the author of the acclaimed novels West of the Moon, Heart of a Samurai, and Shadow on the Mountain. She also writes and co-writes plays, sketches, and adaptations for theater. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota.