Friday, September 25, 2009

~Book Review - The Pearl Diver by Jeff Talarigo~ Review
A first novel of rare beauty and sensitivity, Jeff Talarigo's The Pearl Diver follows the harsh fate of a 19-year-old Japanese pearl diver who is diagnosed with leprosy. It is 1948. There are trial medications for her condition, but a weight of prejudice against her. Her name is erased from the family register, and she is rowed to a lifelong exile at the island leprosarium on Nagashima. Ordered to give herself a new name, she decides on Miss Fuji, for the mountain she loves. The balance of the novel is delivered in poignant fragments that appear as notes to a modern-day anthropological study of the leprosarium. Numbered artifacts like "An old map of Honshu" and "A blank white urn" spark stories of the patients Miss Fuji has known and cared for, most of whom were much sicker than she: crippled, blinded, deformed, but all the more human for their suffering. The cruelties inflicted on the patients at Nagashima almost rival the cruelties of the disease itself. Talarigo's novel could easily succumb to sentimentality, but he maintains the poise of Miss Fuji: one who watches, who does not forgive, but who will not be lowered by vengeance or despair. --Regina Marler -

A Short Introduction:

This is a story of a 19 year old girl...a pearl diver. This is her daily job, to search the ocean floor for oysters, sea urchins, and lobster. This is something that she loves to do, and being the youngest, hopes that she continues to learn from the other older, more seasoned divers. It is one day after they had all finished their diving, that one of the other divers notices a red mark on her arm. They all tease her, thinking that it is a "sucker bite" from a boyfriend. It is not until she is diving one day and cuts her arm open on a sharp rock, that she realizes that something is very wrong. There is blood, but there is no pain.
A doctor confirms that she has leprosy. Her doctor informs her that she can never dive again. From that point forward, she has to sever all ties with her family and friends and her home. A boat would pick her up to carry her across the water to the island of Nagashima where there is a leprosarium. Upon arriving, she is informed she must give herself a new name...she has no past. That part of her life is gone forever.

My Thoughts:

I normally do not read historical fiction, but the cover of this book appealed to me. The young woman perched on the edge of the rowboat, the water, and the misty mountains in the distance. From the first chapter, I was completely drawn into this young woman's life in the year of 1948. How she must continue the rest of her life cut off from her family, her home and shunned from the public. She is dropped off at the island of Nagashima at the leprosarium, thoroughly scrubbed and disinfected, told that she must change her name, and that her birthday is now the day she was admitted there.
Her name becomes "Miss Fuji", and from that point forward, her world totally changes.
This is a powerful story...yes, it is an emotional story...even painful to read at times. But I looked up to "Miss Fuji" for all that she endured...her story will be forever etched in my mind.

"The sea. From this day on, it will forever be different for her. Not hatred - she will never hate it - only something that separates. It had always been something that she thought connected - island to island, fishermen to home. But today it is, and always will be, a separator." pg 27

Four Stars

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400034914

About The Author:

“The Pearl Diver” was published in 2004 (Nan Talese/Doubleday) and was awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Award and was a Kiriyama Prize notable book. Talarigo, along with his wife and son, moved back to the United States in 2006. He was awarded a fellowship at the New York Public Library's Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. His second novel, “The Ginseng Hunter” (published April, 2008, Nan Talese/Doubleday), was rated one of the Best Books of 2008 by NPR and was one of the American Library Association's Notable Books for 2009.

Talarigo’s work has been translated in German, Spanish, Hebrew, and Korean. Currently living in Boston, he is at work on his third book, a novel about 20th century Gaza, and has begun research on a fourth novel concerning Chechnya.


Lisa said...

It's amazing to me how many different things there are to write about. This sounds very interesting.

Blodeuedd said...

First I thought no, then I came to the leprosy part and my interest peaked. Thanks for the review

Natalie W said...

Wow , i need to find this one. Sounds like a great book.


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