Cover Image: The African Samurai

The African Samurai

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Member Reviews

"The African Samurai" by Craig Shreve tells the story of Yasuke, an African man who was enslaved as a child and eventually brought to Japan during a Jesuit mission. Given as a gift by the Jesuits to curry favour with the powerful Oda Nobunaga, he ended up being trained as a samurai and acting as a personal bodyguard in Nobunaga's court. This book is based on a true story documented in Japanese records from the 1500s during the Sengoku period and tells the fascinating story of one man's experience at a critical time in Japanese history.

Told in a non-linear style, the story alternates between Yasuke's experiences in Japan and flashbacks to his childhood growing up in southern Africa, his time enslaved and forced to fight in India, as well as the years he spent in Europe with the Jesuits. As the reader learns more and more details of his history through these flashbacks, he becomes an even more complex and sympathetic character. There are a lot of musings in this book about the universality of humanity mixed in with the more dramatic action sequences.

My only complaint with this book is that at times there are overly long passages describing the hierarchy and political mechanizations of Japanese nobles. While I didn't know much about the time period, so appreciated the background information, I think it could have been woven a little more organically into the story rather than as lengthy info dumps. 

Also I would give a warning for a number of quite graphic passages both related to war/conflict and horrific treatment towards prisoners and enslaved people. While this is certainly an accurate depiction of the brutality that people experienced, if you have a weak stomach for reading descriptions of violence, I would recommend giving this book a pass.

I would definitely recommend this book to historical fiction readers looking for a story with a non-Western setting and a unique perspective on colonization and slavery. While there are many books that chronicle the experiences of enslaved people in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, this is one of the first fiction books that I have read that focuses on the Indian Ocean slave trade which made Yasuke's story very interesting and informative to follow. With the story spanning three continents, I came away from my reading experience feeling like I had learned a lot about events that occurred in 16th century history outside of Europe.

*DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC of this book from Simon & Schuster Canada through NetGalley for the purposes of providing an unbiased review.*
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This book was great. I think Yasuke is an awesome character to showcase in a novel and Shreve did an excellent job making his voice very distinct and the story emotional. 

The book is told in alternating chapters for a large portion of it, with Yasuke's time in Japan with Nobunaga Oda and when he is first taken as a slave. The flashbacks were less interesting to me, but always provided relevant poignancy to the Japan timeline. 

For a book about samurai, I expected more action, but Shreve kept a reserved hand here. The action is good, but it's way more about character introspection and Yasuke learning who he is and how Japan works, as well as his place there. 

Really liked the ending! Highly recommend checking this out.
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The African Samurai is a historical fiction take on Yasuke, who was abducted from his village at the age of 12, trained as a soldier through the Portuguese naval forces, and eventually found himself in Japan, where he became the first African samurai. I will first say that I knew absolutely nothing about Yasuke's story, or the history of Japan at the time of the story, so I cannot speak to the historical accuracy of this novel.

This book was so well written, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The tale is told non-linearly, so you meet Yasuke while he is working for the Portuguese in Japan before learning how he came to be a part of the Portuguese forces. I was so entranced by Shreve's ability to write multiple cultures respectfully, while also making clear the horrific nature of colonialism and slavery. Shreve really goes into Yasuke's thought processes, in his experience of being the only Black man anyone in Japan had seen, and how that impacted Yasuke's experiences and emotions. The plot of this book is fairly minimal, but the emotional exploration is top notch. I would recommend this to any fan of historical fiction.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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I really enjoyed reading this book. It was an interesting and at times heartbreaking story. This is based on the real life of an African man who served Oda Nobunaga. It was so interesting to read, I honestly didn't know anything about this or much about this time period in Japan either. 
I did find at times this book was a bit too slow for me, some parts felt like they were being stretched out for not reason. It was overall a really good book and I definitely recommend it but there were times I felt my attention straying.
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The African Samurai is a very immersive read. It is easy to find yourself sucked into the book. By the end, you will be emotionally connected to the characters, all of them.

Admittedly, the biggest issue with the story is the amount of detailed, graphic violence. While I was not turned off while reading those scenes, I had to stop reading a few times to process what I had just read. On the flip side, the book is set in a place and time that saw centuries of war.

I did find the tale of Askue eye-opening as it explores slavery from the point of view of the slave. When we first met Asuke, he was a child in Africa. We follow him through his training, even though that is often told through flashbacks and on his travels to and around Japan. He constantly questions who he is, where he came from, and what his future holds for him.

I have seen in a couple of reviews that people were frustrated with the historical inaccuracies in the story. Shreve admits that he moved a few things around to make the story flow easier. Again, he also states he left some people out of the story to make it flow a bit easier. Another reason there may be historical inaccuracies is the lack of reference material. The events discussed in The African Samurai occurred in the late 1500s, and most of the history has been lost to time.

Do you enjoy reading books set in Japan? Or do you enjoy reading books based on real events? Then you should give The African Samurai a read!
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The African Samurai is a riveting book that provides insight not only into the life of the first African Samurai, but also the general turmoil within Japan during the time of the battles among feudal lords.  We meet Yasuke as a child in Mozambique where he lived with his mother and father who was an itinerant trader.  From there he is captured and sold into slavery as his village was raided and destroyed.  Told in the first person, this part of the story is particularly raw and heartbreaking to read.  Shreve has Yasuke return to his childhood through flashbacks as events and interactions throughout his life trigger both happy and unimaginably painful memories.  As we follow Yasuke through young adulthood, his very existence reduced to that as an object of a transaction as he is sold and resold as a slave/laborer/mercenary, finally ending up in the service of Portuguese missionaries, having survived due to his remarkable mental and physical strength. This book is propulsive, atmospheric and truly heartbreaking and will appeal to a wide range of readers.
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At 12 the boy who would be known as Yasu a.k.a. Isaac was taken from his African village after seeing all the adults slaughtered it would be a memory he would never forget he was then sold to fight for countries he had previously never heard of eventually ending up being the bodyguard for the second highest man in the Catholic Church. When we meet him he is on his way to bring goods and supplies to Japan but his story would not be one of just a bodyguard bringing supplies it would diverge into an epic tale of friendship loyalty and ultimately betrayal this is a great book about a figure in history I knew nothing about and think the author did a wonderful job putting all the pieces together to make an epic story. Yessu’s The story is a great intriguing tale of turning lemons into lemonade and always doing your best despite the circumstances I love stories like this and I’m so glad I stumbled onto this one. This is a great book and one I highly recommend I want to think Net Galley and Simon and Schuster Canada for my free Ark copy please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review.
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3.5 ⭐️ 

My love for samurai history began when I watched Tom Cruise’s “The Last Samurai”. I promptly googled to see if the movie was based on a true story, which made me scroll across Yasuke, the black samurai. Unfortunately there is very little material to go off of in his life since tribal cultures of any kind use oral histories instead of written, which obviously are going to be skewed or vanished after 500+ years.

This book is pretty entertaining but it has several historical inaccuracies and information which are entirely speculation or imagination, which the author to his credit tells you at the end of the book. The author imagines what Yakuze would have thought or gone through coming from an African tribe, going to war for the Portuguese against the Ottomans, being the guard of Jesuit priest, being a samurai and friend to one the most famous Japanese warlords, to finally having freedom.


Some of my biggest issues with the historical inaccuracies are the fact that he gets kidnapped by Portuguese (white people) and enslaved. That narrative fits perfectly with Hollywood movies and pop culture, it’s definitely possible but knowing how slavery works in Africa it’s far more likely that he was enslaved by Africans and then sold to the Portuguese but there is no evidence to back any of these claims up. 

There are also several instances of historical people dying and the author has depicted them dying at an incorrect time or the person who killed someone was not actually the person who did it.
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I requested a digital copy in order to sample the prose on my phone (since I don't have a eReader) before requesting a physical copy for review. My review will be based on the physical ARC I read (if I qualify)
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The African Samurai is a historical fiction story about the life of Yasuke, a slave who becomes a samurai. This was a great example of how historical fiction can highlight moments in the past while balancing accuracy with an interesting narrative take. 

This book did not hide or shy away from the darkness and horrors of slavery that Yasuke went through, but it didn’t focus on them. They served to show how Yasuke became the man he was, and though some of it was hard to read it was important to the story. History is not a happy story, and this wasn’t one either, but I really liked how it ended with a bit of hope for the future and seeking Yasuke choose his own path instead of walking down those forged by others. 

It was tough, and real, and a great historical fiction for anyone interested in this time period and seeing history from a less common perspective.
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An historical fiction based on a segment of the life of Yusuke, an African born slave, who becomes the first foreign born samurai. Most of the story is set in Japan during the 16th century, although there are flash backs to him as child in his village and to various points in time while a slave. It's an interesting look at how people think of and treat those that are noticeably different. The story does also explore the idea of freedom, loyalty and honor and what it means to an individual. Well written story. 
    I received an ARC copy from NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.
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4.5/5 stars 

I really enjoyed this fictional retelling of the real life and only known African samurai named Yasuke. It follows his travels as a slave on a Portuguese trading ship with a Jesuit missionary hoping to bring Christianity (and maybe even some political control) to Japan. On their expedition in Japan, Isaac is “given” to the daiymo Oda Nobunaga. He is then renamed Yasuke and begins to rise in respect and status within the inner circle of Nobunaga until he is made samurai, an honor usually only given to Japanese. This runs a few people the wrong way as it is a major deviation from tradition.

Throughout his training Yasuke recalls his kidnapping by slavers, being sold to Portuguese missionaries and being forced to fight the Ottomans, and later being sent to a church that treated him very poorly before being taken under the wing of his former Portuguese missionary protector. He also begins to let himself remember his childhood in Africa and hope for some form of freedom by serving Nobunaga. 

What an amazing novel! I loved the attention to detail and level of research Shreve put into this work. I agree with him in his point in the author’s note that not only is history skewed because it is written by the victors but it is incomplete because it is 𝘸𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘯 period. We are missing all of the oral histories of Africans and Indigenous peoples. It was really refreshing to see a historical novel with both African and Japanese cultural experiences and the similarities between them as perceived by Yasuke. This book was also profoundly heartbreaking with all that Yasuke had to endure and the authentic portrayal of slavery in the 1500s. 

Highly recommend! Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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The African Samurai by Craig Shreve is an elegantly woven historical novel that sweeps you up into such a compelling story that you are loathe to put the book down until the very end.
Shreve takes the real historical figure of Yasuke and, using what information that is known of his life, brings him to life in a way that the history books could not possibly achieve. The descriptions of the life Yasuke has lived, from being stolen from his village in Africa, to life as a slave who is traded and sold repeatedly, to his becoming a samurai and a free man, is told in the first person with such humanity and understanding that reading about it is an emotional journey for the reader. The politics of the church and of the country of Japan, with its different factions and the attempt to re-unify the country under one banner, are fascinating, and the characters that Yasuke encounters are complex and wide-ranging, eliciting mixed emotions in both the main character and the reader.
It's no wonder that a streaming service is interested in making this into a series.
I highly recommend this book! I was lucky to get an ARC of #TheAfricanSamurai from #NetGalley.
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A black samurai is what I wanted to see in shows like samurai Jack as a kid. I love seeing black representation in spaces were we aren’t mentioned without culturally appropriating. A fast paced gripping read.
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The African Samurai by Craig Shreve

Some time in the 1550s, probably in the eastern part of Africa, the man who would become the first foreign samurai in Japan was born. Yasuke, as he would come to be known, left Africa as a teen with a group of Portuguese sailors, most likely as a slave. He ultimately arrived in Japan in 1579 with an Italian Jesuit named Alessandro Valignano. In 1581 Yasuke traveled with Valignano and a group of missionaries to Kyoto. There, they met Oda Nobunaga, a powerful daimyo (a Japanese feudal lord) attempting to unify the various warring factions of Japan. In relatively short order, Yasuke was elevated to samurai. While the broad strokes of Yasuke’s story are known, the details are shrouded in mystery. This, of course, is the perfect scenario for an historical novel.

Shreve is a talented writer who has crafted a compelling reimagining of Yasuke’s life. He uses strategic flashbacks to provide credible explanations for Yasuke’s journey from Africa to India, his arrival in Japan, and his martial prowess. Yasuke was doubtless a fierce warrior: not only was he probably the first black man seen in 16th Century Japan, he also broke centuries of tradition by becoming the first samurai who was not Japanese. Yasuke becomes a favorite of Nobunaga, arousing both respect and jealousy among his fellow samurai. The ending of Nobunaga’s quest to unify Japan is a matter of established historical fact. While the historical record is silent as to how the real Yasuke’s adventure ended, Shreve gives us a plausible and suitably oblique denouement that perfectly wraps up the tale.

The byzantine political maneuvering and unfamiliar names are a little challenging at first, but soon things become pretty clear. Shreve does a masterful job of creating personalities and crafting dialogue for these historical figures. The result is an interesting and informative peek into a part of history that is not well known to most of us Westerners.

Fans of adventure tales based on real historical events should definitely give this one a shot. Thanks to NetGalley, Scribner Canada, and Simon & Schuster for the chance to preview The African Samurai
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Craig Shreve's compelling story, The African Samurai (Simon and Schuster August 2023) follows the journey of a 16th century young boy, from a small African village  to the court of Japan's ruler as the first foreign-born samurai. When his entire village is killed, the boy who eventually becomes known as Yasuke is left with no family, no connections, his value based on how well he serves his masters. He takes that seriously, developing himself physically and mentally despite little food, abysmal conditions, and many beatings. Because of his size and strength--and relative intelligence--he is sold over and over, finally ending in the hands of a Jesuit priest who treats him better than most and teaches him much about life and the world, only to again trade him, but this time to the Japanese ruler who finds value in the boy-man's well-considered opinions and breadth of knowledge on the world--a side benefit of all the places he has lived as a slave. It is then that his life changes and begins an upward trajectory to the vaunted position of Japanese samurai with its attendant acclaim, wealth, and position. 

“Make your name. Today, and every day forward. You are samurai. Be feared.”

This is historical fiction about little known events that will shock and educate you. It is told in first person making the man's pain closer, the misery more personal, and his refusal to give up more emotional. There were times I struggled to keep reading not because the prose failed but because Yasuke's life was so difficult. The lesson I came away with is never give up.

Recommended for all who love history about good people prevailing over obstacles, stories that are heart-stopping, action-packed, and unputdownable.
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Let me start this off by saying this isn’t my normal genre so that makes it that much more impressive that I loved and devoured this book as much and as quickly as I did. Shreve paints a gorgeous setting with regular inserts of natural details, like turtles on the beach or Mount Fuji, that makes it vivid in your brain as you read. I loved that, each depiction was gorgeously authentic and added to the book in ways I can’t quite put into words. On top of that, this story of adversity and struggle is truly stunning. I laughed, smiled, screamed, and somehow (although I’m not sure how and I wasn’t expecting this) cried. 
Yasuke is beautifully written and a battered down human being who is constantly and consistently subjected to the worst the world has to offer and yet is still written as a man with strong feelings and a sense of self. I won’t give anything away but the ending was better than I could’ve imagined and I thought it was the perfect conclusion to the journey of discovery that Yasuke went on. Each deviation or addition to history that Shreve makes is clearly thought-out and is done so in a way that it only enhances the story and the character but never steals attention away from the truth of it. I recommend this book and even as someone who isn’t a typical reader of this style or genre I found that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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The African Samurai touched me in unexpected ways. Craig Shreve did an amazing job taking us along for the journey of Yasuke's life. I felt his pain, his loss and his humiliation. He was stolen from Africa as a boy, traded like property and treated with little regard, much less any humanity. I wanted him to know freedom like it was my own at stake. His imposing physical strength is but a shadow compared to the strength of his character. His content is replaced with the steely will to survive, bolstered only by the fading memories of home and the love of his parents. After many years in servitude he finds himself in Japan and once again like a chameleon of survival he finds his way in their society. I do not want to share any spoilers because I want you to unwrap this story like a gift. It is a gift.

I did find myself a bit lost with all the names of the various warring factions in Japan.  I was confused  trying to follow who held which position, who was good or bad, who was an ally. I would suggest that is just my personal taste and interest and others would find quite vital to the story. I prefer to get into the mind of the protagonist to understand them. 

I honestly wished the novel could have been longer - more of life in Africa, more descriptions of the landscape and life in his village. I wanted more of Yasuke in general.  I enjoyed the descriptions of Japan's landscape and culture.  

I look forward to more from Craig Shreve and am so glad to have had the opportunity to read an advanced copy and suspect this novel will do VERY well. Any author that can reduce me to tears and cause goose flesh while I am reading has me looking for everything else they have written and looking forward to their next project. I heard that it is going to be developed into a series/movie on Netflix and I will certainly be watching for it.
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Wow. I loved this book. I've heard about Yasuke multiple times, but I've never dived deeply into his story (I'm not counting the Yasuke anime on Netflix, sorry not sorry). I'm so glad I ended up stumbling upon this book by Craig Shreve, because this was masterful!
It's hard to pick what I loved the most about this book, but I think I'm able to narrow it down to three things; Yasuke's characterization and development, his friendship with Nobunaga, and all the rich details.

I loved Yasuke and rooted for him right away. What a gentle giant. Shreve did an excellent job portraying the complexities of Yasuke's emotions because I felt them. When he was hurt, so was I. Seeing what he went through made me want to yell! His good sense of humour made me smile (I loved his banter with Ranmaru, Ogoru and Jingorou), and I worried for him.

Nobunaga, was another excellent character. I was wary of him immediately, but the bond that he and Yasuke forged?! It really touched me. There was a scene in the book that brought tears to my eyes. When Nobunaga bowed after Yasuke performed for him in the rhino mask, I was amazed. Yasuke took such a risk by showing Nobunaga a precious part of his culture. I was so afraid Nobunaga might have derided him but he bowed out of respect! Seeing the respect between the representatives of two cultures really moved me.

The details peppered throughout this novel were excellent. I felt like I had been transported back in time. Little details like what a tea ceremony is like, the mythology and stories of Mozambique and Japan, what samurai armour feels like, etc. The novel really came to life!The political machinations went over my head but I wasn't entirely lost because of an otome game I played that depicted events from the Heian and Sengoku period (thank you, Birushana and Nightshade LMAO). 

Also Craig Shreve is Canadian of black descent. I can't help but feel pride for a fellow Black Canadian. This book was excellent! Thank you, NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada, for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
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