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Review of Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner
By Vera Woo
"Butterfly’s Child" is a unique and beautiful story and the imagined sequel to Puccini’s beloved opera, “Madam Butterfly.” Written by Angela Davis Gardener, who spent time when she was a professor emeritus in Japan, “Child” is a captivating novel of love, guilt, sin, sorrow and finally joy.
Set in the early 1800’s when America did small trade with Japan, the novel’s fascinating the transcultural theme sets the perfect back drop and yet remains particularly relevant today.
The story begins where “Madam Butterfly” ends. Expansively imagined, carefully researched and beautifully told, Davis-Gardner has written this book for anyone who longed to know what came next after the famous unhappy ending of the famed opera.
With a narrative that sweeps from the farmlands of Illinois to the Japanese settlement of
San Francisco to Butterfly’s homeland in Nagasaki, Japan, the story starts with Butterfly (Cio- Cio) being introduced by Sharpless, an American seaman, to Colonel Pinkerton in Nagasaki, Japan. They enjoyed each other’s company and Cio- Cio ends up conceiving a child from the union.
Colonel Pinkerton is recalled to duty in America but promises that he will return to Japan. He does return two years later, but with an American wife.
Cio- Cio is so distraught over this; she fakes suicide with a sword – the same one her father used to commit suicide. Prior to committing suicide, she butchers the family cat and lies on the cat. Her lover and his wife come in and see her in a pool of blood and take her son away with them home to Illinois to live with his mother. Though they introduce the boy, Benji, as an orphan his arrival raises eyebrows with his looks. Benji sports blond hair and a big nose similar to Pinkerton.
Kate, Pinkerton’s wife, is a good woman. She treats the boy well and even teaches him English. In the meantime she tries to get pregnant but miscarries each time. She joins a literary group to keep busy. She gets invited to a “Suffragettes” meeting but because of her illness declines.
When Benji finds a photograph in his kimono with inscription on it, he takes it to one of the Suffragettes to read it, since she is a woman of the world. The woman looked at it but said nothing to Benji. Instead she gossiped with her host that Pinkerton was in the photo. Soon, the news spread like wild fire in the village.
Benji heard of this and decided to run away, before his father heard the news.
He saddles his horse and leaves home that night. He rides as fast as he could towards the West Coast with a goal to reach San Francisco. His idea is to make his way to Japan to seek his mother’s relatives.
On his way he makes friends with a Japanese business man who does Import/Export. This man gets him a Birth Certificate and a Passport so he can boards a ship to Nagasaki.
When he arrives in Japan he sets out to find his mother’s relatives. But along the painful search in the Geisha district, he meets a woman who knew of his mother’s tale.
To say any more would deprive you of the joy of reading how the skilled author resolves the plot but needless to say, this is a very fulfilling read. Fans of Puccini’s opera will also find some fascinating clues as to how the true story of “Butterfly” came to international acclaim.
Davis-Gardner explores and researched this book with great tenderness. It is beautifully written and deeply moving. Once you enter Benji’s world and begin his journey, there’s no turning back. I read this book in 48 hours and did not stop until I finished the book.
I enjoyed the book and loved every bit of the author’s style. Now I am looking forward to reading more her previous book, "Plum Wine."
"Butterfly's Child" is available at booksellers everywhere.