After his motherís untimely death, Hikotaro expects a great adventure when he agrees to join his stepfather on the sea, aboard the vessel the man captains. Unpredictable weather is a common occurrence for these ships that sail near Japanís coast. Transferring to another ship as cook, Hikozo, as he later becomes known, learns the ways of a sailorís life.
Unfortunately, the ship is destroyed by fierce storms, but the increasingly desperate crew is saved by an American ship sailing toward harbor in San Francisco in America. So begins Hikozoís journey to return to his homeland, a process that is thwarted both by world events and the seclusion policy of Japan, a policy that disallows the young manís reentry into Japan for a number of years.
In the course of Storm Rider, Hizokoís experiences define his life between two continents. He is essentially a man between countries, but in the unique position of observing both. In this manner, the author describes world events from the opening of trade with Japan in 1839 to the American Civil War, with the California Gold Rush in between. Eventually returning to Japan, Hizoko uses his Americanized name, Joseph Heco, his American citizenship stigmatizing the rest of his life.
Philip Gabriel's translation of Akira Yoshimura's novel is extremely literal and, while historically detailed and precise, the reading can seem dry and uninspiring. Whether this is due to the original or the translation is difficult to ascertain. However, for those who enjoy their history straight up, there are few frivolous narratives to detract from the issues at hand. Certainly, this is a rich period in history, as America flexes its military muscle, forcing Japan to open to world trade, as well as the incredible influx of opportunists who flock to California to pursue their dream of wealth. The Civil War effectively closes off America to Hikozo, who remains a man lost between cultures, a prisoner of history.