Book Review: 'The Samurai of Seville' an exciting summer read

READ IT "The Samurai of Seville" By John J. Healey Publisher: Arcade Publishing-New York 261 Pages

Emily Dickinson famously wrote, "There is no Frigate like a Book/ To take us Lands away ..." This is a good descriptor for the new novel by Williamstown author John J. Healey, "The Samurai of Seville."

It is an adventure story that takes us back to 1614 when the Shogun of Japan dispatched a delegation of 21 Samurai aboard the ship Date Maru from Toshima-Tsukinoura, Japan, bound on a long and arduous sailing expedition to Spain. Its purpose was to connect two highly civilized cultures attempting to find common ground in their multi-faceted diplomatic missions. The Old World, as both nations knew it, was by the natural course of history, becoming unhinged by what each had to learn from one another. At the center of this novel are love relationships, betrayals, friendships and the appreciation of Japanese and Spanish civilizations of the early 17th century. The best and worst features of these two ancient worlds are illuminated and brought together by the advent of necessity and greater glory.

The story begins when the First Lord and founder of Sendai, Date Masamune, known as Dokuganrya, "the one-eyed dragon," sends his nephew and adopted son, Shiro, of princely heritage, to be his "eyes and ears" on the very honorable assignment of accompanying the delegation leader, Hasekura Tsunenaga, along with the 21 Samurai. Shiro's noble character, his warrior class, his impressive skills with every language, and his eloquence, endear him to very lofty characters in none other than King Philip III of Spain, Pope Paul V, Galileo Galilei, Cervantes and many other friends of high and low rank, including the Duke of Medina. Of course, the mission encounters many complications, not the least of which are the profoundly daunting cultural differences none are ready for, but the novel gives us a revealing picture of what these countries were coping with in their first idealistic and brave attempts to understand each other and develop accord and trade.

What seems to drive the central motivations of the characters in this novel is love. Love that is often ideal in nature, as when Shiro falls in love with the daughter of the Duke of Medina-Sidonia, Guada. But there is avarice, lust and brutality too, leading to the crossing of swords for honor. When all of his adventures are seen through, it is Shiro who is torn in the end between two worlds, and the reader is exhilarated by a most exciting summer read.

A book event for "The Samurai of Seville" with John J. Healey will be held 3 p.m. Sunday, July 16, at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at


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