Author: Alan Gratz
Reading Level: 6th – 8th
Publisher: Dial (Penguin Putnam)
Edition: Hardcover, 2006
Every scene is necessary in this tightly written and thoroughly researched historical novel. The events unfold as the momentum gains and as Toyo’s self-understanding grows – subtly but with such forces that I could not put the book down. The opening scene of detailed Seppuku (suicide by cutting open one’s own stomach) ritual and some of the High School hazing methods are definitely not for the faint of heart. Yet this is not a book about violence, but about honor, loyalty, teamwork, inner strength, and physical strength, as well. All the necessary components of a successful baseball team.
To link the spirit of Bushido (Way of the Warriors) and baseball presents such a fresh look on the American’s National Pasttime that will inspire many young readers to think about the sport they love more deeply and meaningfully. This is an amazing and perfect book!
Note on Cultural Inaccuracies: My suspicion was confirmed by a Japanese friend that since Gratz is not Japanese, nor is he an expert in the Japanese language, some cultural inaccuracies occur in the book. The most glaring problem for me is the use of first names of anyone elder. It simply is not done — not then, and not even now in the 21st century. A son will never call his own father by the first name – no matter HOW much he detest his own father. When calling an upper classman, one will always use honorifics: -san and -sempai attached to either the first or last names; and when the younger students are addressed, the older ones might use -kun. These can be easily researched — even a simple google search or any entry level Japanese language text book can reveal the correct usage of these honorifics. Since it IS still an integral part of the Japanese culture, the ignoring of such practice shows a certain mentality from the author and the publisher. What a shame!
4 responses to “Samurai Shortstop”
You'll have to hear Junko's comments about the cultural problems with this book. Plot is a grabber, but she has strong reservations because of the 'exoticizing' and several inaccuracies culturally.
I will find out soon and post the issues here. I'm not sure about the exorticizing points since I found that the book reads similarly in tone and characters and their actions to those found in Japanese Manga stories — the tenacity of the main character, the extreme training methods, the acceptance of harsh punishment, etc. However, I was wondering the whole time if there are cultural inaccuracies that will make this perfectly told story less recommendable!
Sigh, this was my fear too. I thought the book was excellent, but wasn't in a position to know what was what.
The issue of exoticizing is a fascinating one. How to separate what will be strange to a reader unfamiliar with the culture from something that excites him/her in the exotic sense? Especially child readers.
I am not that concerned with the exoticism in this particular novel as the actual inaccuracies. I think Gratz' decision of maintaining the traits in the characters and situations that differ from the current, 21st century, American children's experiences is based on a noble intention: the respect of a different norm. As I read this story, I was reminded over and over again the personalities in Mangas and animes that are created from the "insiders'" view points. And, boy, are they often different from OUR norm! (By the way, what IS OUR norm?)
I'm still impressed by the author's craftsmanship.