Sally’s Rating: 3.5/5
Rhoda Blumberg’s Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun tells the true story of Matthew Perry’s visit to Japan in 1853 in an effort to establish trade relations with the then-isolated country.
This book provides a balanced look at both the Japanese and American sides of this cultural-blending event. It starts with Perry and his ships landing in Japan and slowly negotiating throughout year-long talks to establish a trading post with the samurai-based Japanese culture. It’s amazing to read about a time in world history where two nations came together peacefully, especially because the two countries couldn’t be any more different if they tried. The story is very positive and provides an optimistic message on how cultural differences can be solved without conflict or violence.
Despite being historical nonfiction, there is a lot of humor to be found in the book – whether it’s the Japanese depictions of the barbarous Americans or the commentary on odd quirks in American culture. The narrative moves along at a quick pace with an appendix of historical documents for further reading. The storyline is easy enough to understand for younger readers, and adults can easily learn a few new things as well.
I think the book could have been improved with a just a little more context for the time period, especially in regards to American politics and events. The author kind of just drops the reader into the action, and while we get the background history for the Japanese and their samurai culture, a little more backstory for the American ships could have been useful to know about – especially for younger readers.
Overall, this nonfiction title provided a decent overview of a unique time in American history – one that most likely gets little exposure to middle school students. I’d recommend it to readers who are interested in Japanese history.