The Sign of the Chrysanthemum

The Sign of the Chrysanthemum

4.5 6
by Katherine Paterson, Peter Landa

View All Available Formats & Editions

Muna has never known his father — a samurai, a noble warrior. But Muna's mother has told Muna how he will know him one day: by the sign of the chrysanthemum. When his mother dies, Muna travels to the capital of twelfth-century Japan, a bewildering city on the verge of revolution. He finds a haven there, as servant to the great swordsmith,

…  See more details below


Muna has never known his father — a samurai, a noble warrior. But Muna's mother has told Muna how he will know him one day: by the sign of the chrysanthemum. When his mother dies, Muna travels to the capital of twelfth-century Japan, a bewildering city on the verge of revolution. He finds a haven there, as servant to the great swordsmith, Fukuji. But Muna cannot forget his dream: He must find his father. Only then will he have power and a name to be reckoned with. Only then will he become a man.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
A Trophy Bk.
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.28(d)
870L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Orphan

Muna had not climbed the hill to the burial grounds since the last death among the serfs more than two years before, so that when be turned and saw the scene below, a thrill of pleasure went through his body. From a distance it was beautiful. The rice was all harvested now; and against the muted browns and greens of paddy and field, rice straw hung drying on the racks, golden under the late summer sun. On the bank of the shining river sprawled the roofs of the daimyo's manor, like a great, lazy cat stretched out for a summer nap. Across the fields the tiny thatched huts of the serfs tumbled upon one another like a litter of newborn kittens, drawing warmth and assurance from one another's bodies. Beyond field and but and manor lay the ancient pine grove. And then the sea, its white waves crashing upon the rocky coast. And beyond the sea? By the gods, he would soon know. Soon, he promised himself, as be turned and began to dig his mother's grave.

His task complete, Muna returned to his hut to find old Sato's toothless wife washing the corpse. The boy knelt down behind her on the dirt floor, his eyes downcast, his face drawn into a perfect mask of mourning.

"A kimono? Did the poor girl have a kimono for her burial?"

Muna got up wordlessly and fetched from the tiny chest the one decent garment his mother had ever owned. She bad never worn it, of course. It bad been saved for this day, so that no one would despise her poverty.

He settled himself once more behind the old woman, whose rough hands were dressing the dead woman with a kind of gentleness. He could read no expression in his mother's wastedface. "Her spirit will not be angry that I do not weep," he told himself. "Her life was only drudgery and grief, and death is her release. And mine." His heart beat faster. "And mine." For now, nothing held him here in Awa. He could make his way to the capital and begin his search.

"Beg pardon!" Muna turned to see Sato's ugly peasant face thrust through the doorway. "The priest has come." The serf's voice was drawn out in a solemn manner so unsuited to his comical features that Muna laughed silently, deep inside his belly.

"Poor Sato," he thought, "you and the old woman will have to plant the west field all alone now. Never, never again will I bend, ankle-deep in the mud like a water buffalo, until my back wants to scream out." But outwardly Muna was the grief-stricken orphan as he quietly rose to usher in the priest.

Muna had so little food to offer the few peasants who contributed their wails and prayers at the burial grounds that by nightfall the last one had shuffled home, leaving him alone in his hut to light the tapers and pray.

The flames pricked twin holes in the darkness, and for the first time the tiny hut seemed large with loneliness. Muna did not try to pray. He sat cross-legged before the makeshift altar, hugging his knees. She was gone. The only one who bad cared for him. Until now, his mother and he had been like these two candles in a dark, unfriendly world. Tears started in his eyes.

"He was very big, your father." He remembered her breathless little girl's voice. "A fine samurai. Oh! And such a sword -- taller than you, it stood."

In all her life, only the tall samurai was worth remembering, He had spent a few day's on Awa, fathered her son, and never returned.

"It was rumored," she had said each time as though she were revealing a closely kept secret, "that he was on a special mission for his excellency, Heike no Kiyomori." Then, patting Muna's skinny knees, "He would be so proud of you. If only he knew."

"And he will know," Muna thought to himself as he wiped the back of his sleeve across his eyes and nose. "Little Mother," he whispered to the candle. "You think of me only as a child. You were frightened whenever I was out of your sight. But I am no longer a child. I must leave this miserable island and find a life worthy of a man. Until this day, I have let your fears bold me back from my dream. But watch me now without fear, for you will see your son come into his rightful inheritance. I am going to find my true name -- the name of my father's people." His voice grew stronger. "I will be someone to be reckoned with in this world. No longer will men spit on me and call me Muna -- the nameless one.

No. They will bow as I pass. They will prostrate themselves before me and beg favors of me. I shall wear a sword that will slay any man who dishonors my name -- a great sword that will bring new glory to my noble father and to your spirit. But for a little while, I will have to leave your grave unattended while I accomplish these things. First, I must find my father. . . ."

"But how can you be sure that you are my son?" In his recurring daydream, the elegant warrior always looked down on him with a stern dignity that could not hide a wistful gentleness.

And Muna would look him straight in the eyes. "By the chrysanthemum."

At this, the great warrior's eyes would soften, and he would say, his voice choked with emotion, "My son, my son, the gods are good."

The boy was so lost in his dreamings that it was some moments before he became aware of another presence in the room. His mother's spirit? His lack of grief had offended her. Muna clapped his hand to his mouth to keep from crying out...

The Sign of the Chrysanthemum. Copyright © by Katherine Paterson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Sign Of The Chrysanthemum (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Though not for the struggling reader, this book is a jewel! Paterson's descriptive language and sentence structure make this a literary joy! Also, the hope that Muna will find his father and the suspense of who his father might be drives one's reading to the very end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love katherine paterson. She is an exceptional writer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My young teenage daughter really enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
a must read!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is an awsome book for people for 11-14 should read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book out loud to my daughters (11 and 15) and husband on a long car trip. It made the drive go very quickly. We were all sorry when we got to the end.