Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back

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Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back
336 pages; W. W. Norton & Company

The Epic, Real-Life Story That Astonishes

Imagine being shipped out of your own country at age 6—without a parent—and denied the chance to decline the so-called opportunity. That's just what happened to a group of Japanese girls, who were sent by their government, in 1871, to establish themselves in America as Westerners. The plan? For them to return a decade later and serve as an example for Japanese women, for whom education was a rare thing, let alone an education abroad. Initially, the girls relied on each other for comfort; when it became apparent that their mutual dependency was hindering their integration, they were separated. For some, the challenge was too great—two were sent home due to health problems and homesickness—but three girls remained and were sent to live with American families in Connecticut and Washington, D.C. There, they connected with their host families. The youngest, Ume, whose host mother described her as a "sunbeam from the land of the rising sun," integrated especially well and grew up to attend such colleges as Vassar and Bryn Mawr. Nimura's exhaustively researched historical biography is as immersive as any work of fiction, heart-wrenching in its depiction of these cultural orphans turned pioneers. "They had grown into women with the odd ability to see their native land through foreign eyes," she writes. "They were home, and yet at some deep level they would never cease to be homesick." A book about such trauma may sound hard going, but readers will find themselves wrapped up in the struggles of these young castaways and will ultimately be rewarded by the triumphant story of their return home—where little Ume would establish her nation's first English school for girls.  
— Julia Pierpont