The African Samurai

A Novel

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Pub Date 01 Aug 2023 | Archive Date 01 Aug 2023

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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.
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...

Advance Praise

Included on the "best of summer 2023" reading round-ups, including Paste MagazineBookBub, The Toronto Star, Canadian Living magazine, Off the Shelf, and more!

“In The African Samurai, Craig Shreve tells an extraordinary story with dramatic intensity, sensitivity, and consummate imagination. Like all the best historical novels, it feels relevant and even essential to our present moment. Of the many admirable things about this novel, the greatest is Shreve’s feat of breathing life into Yasuke, its central character, and rescuing this remarkable man from obscurity.” — DAVID BEZMOZGIS, award-winning author of Immigrant City and The Betrayers

[A] complex and deeply moving story . . . that powerfully resonates with our current times. [The] deftly drawn characters of European, Asian, and African origin inhabit a sometimes frightening but ultimately hopeful story due to Shreve’s immense skills at illuminating the power of the human spirit.” — JEFFREY COLVIN, award-winning author of Africville

“A sweeping historical epic anchored by one man's fight for survival and the search for a home and identity ripped away. Fearlessly told and painstakingly crafted, The African Samurai explores rare literary territory and tells a singular, visceral tale of discovery and endurance.” — KEVIN HARDCASTLE, award-winning author of In the Cage and Debris

Included on the "best of summer 2023" reading round-ups, including Paste MagazineBookBub, The Toronto Star, Canadian Living magazine, Off the Shelf, and more!

“In The African Samurai...

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ISBN 9781668002865
PRICE CA$24.99 (CAD)

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Featured Reviews

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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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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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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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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