A rich portrait of a brutal age.



Biography of an African slave who rose to fame and fortune in 16th-century Japan.

Making his literary debut, Lockley (Nihon Univ. College of Law) teams up with Girard (Mary Rose, 2018, etc.) to create a fast-paced, novelistic history of Japan’s feudal past, centered on the life of Yasuke, who arrived in Japan in 1579 as the indentured bodyguard and valet of Alessandro Valignano, a wealthy and influential Portuguese Jesuit missionary. Drawing on abundant sources, including archival material, the authors offer a panoramic view of politics, sex, religion, and war. They recount in horrifying detail the massacre of African families and kidnapping of boys by Arab, Persian, and Indian slave merchants that resulted in Yasuke’s enslavement. Growing up in India as a boy soldier, he was “trained in violence, as well as comportment and service,” making him an appealing servant for the Jesuits, who fanned out across Japan, determined to save souls. Over six feet tall, strong and muscular, Yasuke was an intimidating presence and protector as the Jesuits battled religious and political factions in a nation beset by endlessly warring factions. Blood and gore ooze from the pages as the authors describe ruthless slaughter, beheadings, disembowelment, rapes, and torture. Ninjas, who “killed only for money, and had no honor beyond what they were paid,” were hardly the most vicious, and Yasuke proved himself a valiant fighter. Seeking favor with the mighty warlord Oda Nobunaga, Valignano handed over Yasuke as “a weapon bearer and novelty.” Delighted, the warlord awarded Yasuke the elite status of samurai. “You are my black warrior,” Nobunaga proclaimed. “The demon who will ride beside me into battle, the dark angel who protects me and my family.” Because black skin, although unusual in Japan at the time, carried “entirely positive” connotations, Yasuke became revered, and his prowess became legendary. “People in the streets did not only gape at him,” the authors write, “they bowed, heads to the earth, as they addressed him.”

A rich portrait of a brutal age.

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-335-14102-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Hanover Square Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.



In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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