Friday, May 27, 2016

Samurai Rising & author interview

Samurai Rising: the Epic Life of MinamotoYoshitsune
by Pamela S. Turner; illustrated by Gareth Hinds
256 pages; ages 12 & up
Charlesbridge, 2016

Minamoto Yoshitsune had little going for him. As a fatherless child he was exiled to a monastery, had no money, had few friends and no allies, and had no martial arts training. But he was smart and determined, and he had a dream.

At the age of fifteen, Yoshitsune escaped from exile, joined his half-brother, and led an uprising against the most powerful samurai in Japan.

Pamela Turner spins a tale of courage, battles, cunning, and improvisation in a story that sounds like the adventures of King Arthur or Harry Potter. Except this story is true, and accompanied by maps of battles that really took place. It is also a story about shifting loyalties, political allegiance, love, and family. There are warrior monks, archers, and much clashing of swords. There is victory and defeat.

Not only is it page-turning nonfiction, it is a perfect book to read this political season. If I gave out stars, this would get  a galaxy's worth.

Pam Turner was kind enough to answer Three Questions about how she came to write Samurai Rising. 

Sally: Why did you want to write this story? 

Pam: When I was living in Japan (I lived there for six years), I read The Tale of the Heike, one of the great works of Japanese literature and history. Heike is a big sprawling story about the rise of the samurai in the late 12th century. Out of its many characters is Yoshitsune. His story reminded me of the tales of King Arthur, or our more modern hero, Luke Skywalker. Like them, he was raised in obscurity and grew up to be a great hero, only to discover that his greatest enemy was a member of his own family. But unlike the stories of Arthur and Luke, Yoshitsune's story is true. 

Sally: How did you do the research for this book? 

Pam: I started with about six months of straight research. I live near the University of California, Berkeley, and have access to their massive library. Luckily, all the primary sources have been translated into English, and quite a few Western scholars have written about this crucial period of Japanese history. All my sources are either primary sources or academic sources (as you can tell from my bibliography). I don't cut any corners because I'm writing for young people instead of adults. The actual writing took another year, during which time I continued researching. 

Sally: What’s your secret for writing page-turning nonfiction? 

Pam: "Page-turning" nonfiction is partially a matter of finding the right subject. I think it would be hard to write a boring book about Yoshitsune! Partially it's a matter of pacing; it's important to alternate explanatory bits with some sort of action that moves the story forward, and also to make the explanatory bits intriguing enough that they don't read like explanation. And lastly, how you end a chapter is crucial. If you end on a cliffhanger, the entire chapter will be remembered as "fast-paced".

Check out Yoshitsune’s World at Pam’s website. Click on “Enter Yoshitsune’s World” and you’ll find videos, photos, and more.

On Monday we'll the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by publisher.


  1. This sounds like a great book! I've always been interested in Japanese history, ever since I took a Japanese language class in university many moons ago. Lately I've started to explore anime, which has rekindled my interest in all things from Japan (particularly if it involves sword fighting!) Thanks for the review!

  2. Thanks for the heads up on this book. Can't imagine writing over 1500 words for anything. Good for her! And I liked the questions you asked. Good job.