The New Bedford Samurai is a non-fiction novel blending the life of Manjiro Nakahama’a runaway, illiterate Japanese boy—who in 1841 embarked on a fishing boat alongside four older men—with meditative chapters on the environmental effects of 19th-century globalization.
Cast with his companions onto an uninhabited island in the Pacific, Manjiro was rescued by an American whaling ship. Ten years later, he returned to Japan, where, after being imprisoned, he was elevated to the status of samurai. The book contains adventures on the high seas (among which are whale hunts, a mutiny, and homoerotic rituals); life in 19th-century whaling towns in New England; a Dickensian apprenticeship; an episode during the Gold Rush; the colossal changes Manjiro, on his two trips back to the U.S., perceives in San Francisco, Boston, and Hawaii; a capsule history of Japan right before and right after its opening to the West; and reflections on the traffic in humans and animals that has remained with us to this day.
“A brilliant fusion of a nonfiction novel and an ecologically concerned memoir, Anca Vlasopolos’ latest book, The New Bedford Samurai, takes the reader on multiple journeys. She takes us back through time, bringing to life the true saga of a nineteenth-century Japanese castaway, Manjiro Nakahama, and through space, taking us with her to Japan, where we learn of the plight of the short-tailed albatross. What’s more, this creative, eloquent, and heartrending book makes us care.” — Susan Morgan, author of Place Matters: Gendered Geography in Victorian Women's Travel Writing about Southeast Asia
“Anca Vlasopolos brings passion and poetic talent to vivifying the poignant story of the nineteenth-century boy castaway Nakahama Manjiro. His inadvertent displacement from one side of the world to another is used here as a jumping-off point for adumbrating some of the destructive aspects of present-day globalization. Describing the career of her protagonist, Vlasopolos has brought particular attention to nineteenth-century environmental depredations whose fallout continues to destroy our world. Her imaginatively structured account includes pleas for reconsideration of some of the present-day attitudes and practices that are extending the scope of the destruction, adding to the growing body of literature that seeks to address the urgent need for consciousness-raising in these areas.” — Lindsley Cameron, author of The Music of Light: The Extraordinary Story of Hikari and Kenzaburo Oe
“As an editor, I read a great number and variety of books. Occasionally, an unforgettable one comes to me. This book is one of those.
“It is a true story, obviously well researched—but, had it been fiction, it could not have been more gripping. This is a book to be read for the sheer pleasure of the language, for its insight into the thoughts and culture of many people as varied as a poor fishing boy from pre-westernized Japan to a traumatized American ex-soldier, and above all for the fascinating knowledge the reader can glean about little-known aspects of history.
“The story, as told by a talented author, will make you understand the essential identity of all humanity while emphasizing the effects of culture. Moreover, it gives you an appreciation of the essential identity of all life—that, if we damage any part of our planet, we damage ourselves. It is a book you must read.” — Bob Rich, environmental activist, author of Through Other Eyes
“Vlasopolos brings to life the remarkable and adventurous story of John Manjiro, an indomitable trans-Pacific ambassador between east and west at a time of isolation, ignorance, and distrust. Here is an evocative slice of space-time: the world of maritime commerce and culture in the mid-nineteenth century, taking the reader on an epic adventure—from being marooned on a deserted island, to whaling the western Pacific, Hawaii, early New Bedford, the California Gold Rush, and into the reclusive traditions of early Japan. The Manjiro story is a parable for modern times—a portal into the relationship between cultures and between humans and the natural world. This is a fascinating, heretofore untold story, and Vlasopolos tells it with beauty, charm, historical accuracy, and introspection.
“The extraordinary story of the near-extinction of short-tailed albatrosses of Torishima at the hands of feather hunters, and the subsequent volcanic eruption killing all of the feather hunters, stands as powerful metaphor for nature’s golden rule: treat nature as we wish nature to treat us. This admonition is valid today, evident in how poorly we treat the oceans, through pollution and over-harvesting marine species, resulting in declining ocean ecosystem services to humankind. The New Bedford Samurai gives a fresh, historical reminder of this time-tested truth. This is a lesson we ignore at our own peril.” — Rick Steiner, Marine Conservation Specialist, co-director of the environmental NGO “The Coastal Coalition,” and notable environmental writer. (He forced Sarah Palin's administration to release the truth about how polar bears are endangered by global warming.)
Renowned ornithologist Hiroshi Hasegawa has done more than any other individual to save the short-tailed albatross from extinction. Read about him in The New Bedford Samurai
Artist Rick Lieder designed and created the striking book cover for The New Bedford Samurai.