Title: Butterfly’s Child
Author: Angela Davis-Gardner
Release date: April 10, 2012
Publisher: Dial Press
Format: Paperback (ARC)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Quote of Note: “The young didn’t understand time, how it rushed by, fast as that little river.”
Angela Davis-Gardner’s novel, Butterfly’s Child, begins where Puccini’s opera, “Madame Butterfly,” leaves off. Frank Pinkerton, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, has returned to Japan with Kate, his new wife. Cio-Cio-san (Butterfly), his mistress, sees her chance at simultaneous revenge and redemption. She commits suicide, and Benji’s world changes in a moment.
Pinkerton and Kate agree to take Benji back to their farm in Illinois. In a vain attempt to save face, they claim that they adopted the orphaned half-Japanese half-American child, who bears a striking resemblance to his father.
Frank becomes distant in his grief for Butterfly, leaving a jealous and bewildered (but dutiful) Kate to care for Benji. Benji finds himself in limbo, neither fully Japanese nor fully American. His search for identity propels the narrative forward, through some surprising twists and turns.
The book’s blurb encapsulates well the power of the novel:
A sweeping portrait of a changing American landscape at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a Japanese culture irrevocably altered by foreign influence, Butterfly’s Child explores people in transition—from old worlds to new customs, heart’s desires to vivid realities—in an epic tale that plays out as both a conclusion to and an inspiration for one of the most famous love stories ever told.
The story works for those, like me, who have never seen the play. The novel opens with a synopsis of the opera, and the rest of the story flows from there.
Davis-Gardner gives names and voices to the innocent people who are most affected by Butterfly’s and Pinkerton’s dramatic gestures of love and sacrifice. Kate and Benji are well-developed and sympathetic characters.
As Kate and Frank grow further apart, Kate feels increasingly disconnected from reality and at odds with herself: “Her hair was tangled but her face was the same, as if she were the same woman.” Prickly at first, Kate becomes a very endearing character, but she cannot survive the fracturing of her world as neatly as Benji, who holds dear the memory of his mother’s devotion.
Davis-Gardner’s prose is luscious, and the scenes she paints are rich in detail, as when Benji returns to Japan as a young man:
The morning was already warm and perfumed by the flowers that spilled here and there over the stone walls. A pretty young woman in kimono dumping a pail of water in the street smiled up at him, and he felt a surge of happiness; this was the beginning of his real life.
I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and look forward to reading more from Davis-Gardner.
Don’t just take my word for it. Check out what other reviewers have said:
Life in Review
Bookfoolery and Babble
Peeking Between the Pages