The Samurai of the Red Carnation

Original title: Le Samouraï à l’œillet rouge

Publication Date:

April 2022



Original language and publisher

French | Leméac Editeur

Territories Handled


Territories Sold

Canada (French) (Leméac Editeur)
English (World) (Pushkin Press)


Literary Fiction

The Samurai of the Red Carnation

Original title: Le Samouraï à l’œillet rouge


Rarely has the act of writing been illustrated with so much excitement and exuberance. — Le Devoir

“I absolutely loved [The Samurai of the Red Carnation] when I read it a few weeks ago. On the one hand it’s a thrillingly romantic historical adventure worthy of Dumas, while on the other the thread of waka poetry running through the book adds a whole extra level of interest and distinctiveness to the story. I also found the climax of the book quite astonishing and was very impressed with how the author managed to tie the different threads together. I’m very excited to be publishing this very special title on the Pushkin Press list, which is already home to some of the best literary historical fiction from across the world, including David Diop’s International Booker Prize-winning At Night All Blood is Black.” — Daniel Seton, Commissioning Editor, Pushkin Press

The Samurai of the Red Carnation tells the gripping story of a rivalry in art and love set in medieval Japan. In this novel that rushes forward like white water, Denis Thériault manages to use unusual versification to write an unputdownable tale of epic proportions, portraying a world that is as lush as it is imaginative.

From the enchanted forest of his childhood – inhabited by the witch Murasaki, and watched over by a kami divinity – via the Military Academy where he is trained, as well as bereavements, betrayals, and unrequited love, to the literary jousts in which he competes, Matsuo learns to live and fight by composing wakas. These traditional Japanese poems – composed of three 5-syllable verses and two 7-syllable ones – to which his mother introduced him at a very young age, create a liaison, a shared language that connects him to the world and the beings in it.

The novel reaches its climax with the ultimate showdown, a merciless poetic duel between Matsuo and Yösai, a Buddhist monk he has crossed paths with in the past. These two “samurai of the word” will combat each other in the gardens of Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, turning each deft verse into an arrow and using the most delicate metaphors as deadly spiritual weapons.

Japanese culture has been present in Denis Thériault’s work since he published Le facteur émotif (The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman, XYZ éditeur, 2005), a novel which won the Canada-Japan Literary Prize 2006, was translated into many languages, and has been optioned for a movie adaptation. The Samurai of the Red Carnation transports the reader to the Japan of the Heian era (800-1200 AD). This historical period, during which poetry was considered the noblest of all arts, is characterized by the invention of Uta-awase, a poetic tournament where several authors competed, creating poems on the spot, on given themes. Will Matsuo defeat his rival Yösai and be able to show his love for the seemingly unattainable Yoko?