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Butterfly's Child: A Novel Kindle Edition

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Length: 353 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews Review

A Letter from Author Angela Davis-Gardner

© Ed McCann
How I Came to Write Butterfly’s Child
As the curtain fell on a magnificent performance of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, a friend turned to me, and, amidst the applause and bravos, said, “I wonder what happened to Butterfly’s child.”

The question fell like a seed into fertile ground. I was just finishing a novel, Plum Wine, which is set in Japan and for which I had done extensive research about 19th and 20th century Japanese culture and history. In the world of my imagination I was still in Japan and didn’t want to leave.

My mind set immediately to work. In the tragic climax of the opera, the geisha Butterfly kills herself because her lover and her son’s father, Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, has returned to Japan after a long absence with a “real” wife, an American wife, Kate. Butterfly leaves behind her a young child, after having agreed that Pinkerton can take their son with him to America. The boy--I would name him Benji, after his father, I decided-- stares down at his mother’s body, the bloody sword still in her hand. Offstage, a tormented Pinkerton sings, “Butterfly, Butterfly.”

Benji would be forever bereft, and his father racked with guilt. An implacable shadow would fall over the newly configured family-- Pinkerton, Kate, and Benji--as they settled in the American Midwest. Kate would try her best to make the poor child feel at home and to please her husband, like a good nineteenth-century wife, but she would be unable to forget her husband’s beautiful Japanese mistress, given the presence of Butterfly’s child at her table.

A lonely child and a troubled family: this is the terrain of much of my fiction. Furthermore, I was drawn to writing about a character of mixed heritage and uncertain identity, not fully Japanese nor fully American, “a bat between cultures,” as the Japanese saying goes. I had been raised in the segregated South and had long wanted to write about the appalling racial discrimination I had witnessed. I transposed my passion onto Benji’s tale, knowing that he would encounter discrimination in both America and Japan.

I began my research in Midwestern libraries and archives. One day I saw, on a nineteenth century map, a town named “Plum River” in Jo Daviess county near Galena, Illinois. I had just written a novel in which Japanese plum trees are a central image; the name seemed propitious. I got in my rented car and drove.

I found the nearby towns, Stockton and Elizabeth, still flourishing, but no Plum River. Then, on a back road that ran through fields of tall corn, I saw on the side of a dilapidated building--perhaps once a grain or feed store--the faded words, Plum River. It was a deserted community, waiting to be repopulated.

On a road that ran along a small, twisting river--Plum River, I realized--there was, on a slight incline, a place where a house might have been. I walked up the hill and stood beneath a small cluster of trees, looking out at the lush meadow, the river, the thicket of plum trees along its banks. A delicious shiver went through me. I had found the Pinkerton’s home; I had begun.

From Publishers Weekly

Immediately engaging, this quiet and measured sequel to Puccini's Madame Butterfly begins with the dramatic détente of Puccini's opera: Cio-Cio-san (Butterfly) kills herself when Pinkerton, the father of her son, Benji, returns with an American wife after four years away. Benji then travels with his father and stepmother to flat central Illinois, the polar opposite of Japan, to begin a life of hard farm labor, becoming an outsider within his family and community. Though Davis-Garner (Plum Wine) inherited her characters, they are complex, dimensional beings in her hands. There are no stock villains, perfect heroes, or tragic victims; as Benji grows up and we follow his journey in search of the family, descended from samurai, that supposedly awaits his return to Japan, the author traces the sad descent of Benji's stepmother into madness and father into alcoholism, without being trite or moralistic. Though some of the tension drains from the plot in the book's middle, Davis-Gardner reaps most of the dramatic benefits of Puccini's plot while simultaneously creating an unrushed meditation on character. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3647 KB
  • Print Length: 353 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press (March 8, 2011)
  • Publication Date: March 8, 2011
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004C43ET4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,280 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By New York Book Lover on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have just finished this fine novel and can't wait to sing its praises. The prose is the literary equivalent of Puccini's opera. Passion is underscored by sadness. I am so drawn in from page 1 to the fate of the little half-Japanese boy, raised in the marriage that caused his mother to kill herself. Could there be a more tragic legacy? Transplanted to America, Butterfly's half-orphaned son must live in the shadow of his mother's suicide and his father's faithlessness and be raised by the woman whose very existence destroyed his fragile, beautiful mother. The little boy embodies the contradictions of two cultures and divergent parents. As sensual and moody as its subject, the novel held me in its spell and I was hesitant to re-enter the "real" world. I think Puccini would have approved. It is rare to read a novel inspired by an immortal opera and this spare yet elegant work accomplishes what could be impossible. This book would also make a fine film as I could visualize every scene.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Edward McCann on April 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Angela Davis-Gardner's story of what happens after the last aria of Madame Butterfly is poignant and beautifully crafted. As a reader, I felt I'd traveled through time to meet and observe these characters whom Puccini named and compelled to sing, but whom Davis-Gardner brings to life in ways that surprise and satisfy.

Of all the assessments I've read to date, I think the writer for Kirkus Reviews said it best: "In its way, (Butterfly's Child) holds its own alongside the modern Western masterpieces of Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy. For all its melancholy and madness, it strikes themes of hope and renewal, and believing in the unbelievable."

This is Davis-Gardner's best work ever. I recommend this remarkable book without hesitation, and look forward to sharing copies - and the pleasure of this experience -- with my friends.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alison Woo on March 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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.

To say any more would deprive you of the joy of reading how the skilled author unwinds 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 of her other books.

For more reviews, visit Best Book Blog at [...].
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Clancy McKenna on April 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read Butterfly twice, and purchased four copies to give as gifts. (We won't talk about the number of folks who've read my copy.) You don't have to be an opera-fan to enjoy this story. I cared deeply about the characters, and enjoyed the richly rendered settings. The historical context felt deep and true.
Like Plum Wine, Plum Wine, Butterfly's Child: A Novel was a great place to spend some time.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca on June 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a literature teacher, I am often a hard sell. So many contemporary novels seem superficial, derivative, and in need of a good editor. Not so this one! I began reading mid-afternoon and read continously until I finished it at midnight -- not because it is an "easy" read, but because the story is so intriguing, the characters so well-developed, the settings so evocative, and the prose so finely-crafted.

Beginning with such a tragic event, Ms. Davis-Gardner manages to create a novel that is emotionally satisfying and essentially hopeful. I highly recommend this book and will be sharing it with my friends.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. Wolansky on July 7, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading the book. I thought it was well written and well researched. Obviously the author knows quite a bit about Japan and Japanese culture. I disliked the twist at the end of the book. It makes a mockery of the opera. I agree with the other reviewer regarding Tosca, and have to say "no, no, you've ruined it." I love opera and begin crying during the duet at the end of the 1st Act of Madame Butterfly. I hope I can overlook the novel and enjoy the opera again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Msmardee on August 21, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'll never think of the opera the same. So many fictional books are piggybacking off of famous people, events, plays etc. I guess it is creative license. Still it is a fun read. A bit of too much repetition for me. There could have been a little more depth and development.
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