The Samurai’s Tale, by Erik Christian Haugaard. Originally published in 1984, 256 pages.
This, like many of the books I’ve read over the past several months, is a book I only read becuase it was assigned to one of our children as a literature assignment. It has been a pleasure to read these book in a way that does not describe the books our public schooled middle schoolers were assigned to read. This year has been one filled with books which fully meet the standard of C.S. Lewis’ famous quote about stories worth reading.
The Samurai’s Tale is a novel set in feudal Japan, and begins when our hero Taro, is a four-year-old boy whose powerful samurai father, along with his mother and brothers, are killed by a rival samurai in the fierce struggle for Japanese power. His mother, before her death stripped Taro of his costly, regal clothing, dressed him up as a servant, and concealed him in a box. Her aim of hiding the truth of his lineage in an attempt to spare his life was successful. The warlord, amused by Taro’s mettle as he rushes out to defend his home, takes him under his wing as a servant. So begins Taro’s long, tumultuous journey as the vassal and liege of the powerful samurai Lord Akiyama.
Reading along as a witness to the tale Erik Haugaard has woven was at times sad, and others harrowing, but was never boring. The realism of the story was refreshing as well as unsettling. Many wrters would have Taro grow up under Lord Akiyama waiting for the day that he could avenge his family’s death. Haugaard however, offers us a more true to life scenario, one in which Taro’s loyalty to Lord Akiyama increases the longer he is with him and he grows into a faithful young samurai warrior to his liege lord.
The Buddhist religion loomed large throughout the book, and was another angle that offered opportunity to explore and compare belief systems. Haugaard offered an interesting aside concerning different competing sects within the religion which to us sounded eerily familiar to the kinds of schisms and battles which take place in Christianity as well.
Our daughter found that the book moved too slowly for her at times. The overall narrative was interesting to her and several of Taro’s experiences motivated interesting conversations. It was not her favorite of the books read this year, but neither was it her least favorite.
I liked it, but I concede that it would likely have been a less than exciting book for me to read when I was 11 years old. I was impressed with the issues and writing she produced from the reading given the fact that she was less than enamored with the book. The grade being offered however, is based on my review. I’ll add hers as an addendum.
Grade: B+ (the kid gave it a ‘C’)
Content advisory: war and violence.
Age range: 9+ (or 5th grade and up)