The African Samurai: A Novel
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.
Praise for The African Samurai: A Novel
“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, perhaps 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 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
“[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
“Remarkably suspenseful . . . Shreve has shaped the scant available Yasuke facts into a subtle hybrid of a novel. Part traditional historical saga, rife with blood, guts, and exotic details, and part empathetic meditation on cultural genocide and the annihilation of individual agency, The African Samurai is a riveting story.”
— Toronto Star
“Allowing readers to explore the story of a real-life figure like Yasuke, Japan’s first foreign-born samurai and the only samurai of African descent, is basically why the historical fiction genre exists.”
— Paste Magazine
“During the 16th century, a young East African man sold into enslavement becomes an experienced soldier—and a samurai. Based on the true story of Yasuke, this compelling historical novel moves from Africa to India, Portugal, and Japan, weaving the mesmerizing story of the first foreign-born samurai and the only samurai of African descent.”