It all starts with an author’s note.  “Yes, it’s true” is the message Andy Andrews shares with his readers before they even get to the first page.  Otherwise you’d think you were reading a work of fiction – a story that could only come from the deep imaginings of Hollywood’s best.  Instead, The Heart Mender: A Story of Second Chances brings forth an extraordinary true story about World War II, German U-Boats, Nazis, mystery and intrigue – and the whole thing takes place on the Gulf Coast of America.

Most Americans have no idea that German submarines were out there sinking US ships right off our very own coastlines, but it’s true. Just the tip of the iceberg in this true tale, The Heart Mender tells about a woman who’s living the heartbroken life of a young WWII widow. She was cold, unforgiving, and angry. So when she finds an injured German soldier washed up on the Florida shoreline, the last thing on her mind is helping him.

The Heart Mender is full of real mystery and intruge it’s true, but it’s also a story of romance, forgiveness, and the often unexpected good heartedness of humankind.  Remember the whole Bridges of Madison County thing where we all bawled our eyes out because we thought it was true?  Then no one could turn up any National Geographic issues with bridge photos, we found out the author made the whole thing up, and readers everywhere threw up their hands in despair at the trick.  But The Heart Mender is the real deal, and it’s every bit as necessary to keep the Kleenex at hand at the end. (Okay, at the beginning and middle too.)  So if you need a bit of enccouragement – indeed if you need your own heart mended – and if crying your eyes out over emotional, jaw-dropping endings is your thing, here’s your next read.

When he was a young boy, Manjiro Nakahama ran away from his home in a poor Japanese fishing village. Joining up with some fishermen who took him under their wing, one of their fishing excursions soon turned into a disaster, stranding them on a deserted island. As they awaited their rescue, he had no idea he was about to say goodbye to his country for two decades and hello to what would lead to adventures on whaling ships, tropical islands, and even a life in America. Or that he would someday grow up to be the man responsible for opening the door between Japan and the rest of the world.

The New Bedford Samurai is an amazing and true story in a narrative setting. I’ve read quite a bit of Japanese literature, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover author Anca Vlasopolos’ book reads very much in the Japanese style. The writing has an almost fable-like quality, something I’ve often felt while reading a Japanese novel, and this style works well here, as Manjiro lived a life that could only have come from either a wild imagination or complete truth. One simply cannot read this book and wonder why we haven’t heard of Nakahama before. Vlasopolos has certainly brought forth a story long awaiting a writer to share it.

It is evident Vlasopolos did extensive research for this book, and she even mentions traveling to Japan to do so. Manjiro Nakahama’s life was complex, spanning many countries and major world events, and she takes you through every fascinating corner. She not only provides the reader with a story of a man that had to be shared, she manages to include a look into how the ways of today’s world have affected the environment. The reader will ponder not only how the attitudes of yesterday have impacted the earth of today, but how today’s attitudes will impact our future as well.

Read an excerpt of The New Bedford Samurai.