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The Pearl Diver Paperback – April 12, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400034914
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400034918
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #986,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This unusual debut novel set in 1940s postwar Japan renders brutality and intolerance in quiet, lyrical prose. When a 19-year-old pearl diver, the youngest of a crew working the Seto Inland Sea, discovers she is sick with leprosy, she is banished to Nagashima, an island leprosarium, where she is told to change her name and forget her past. Nagashima is its own kind of civilization, where the renamed "Miss Fuji" must care for the sicker patients, which includes helping the island doctors perform forced, often late-term abortions. Treated with drugs that make her isolation unnecessary, Miss Fuji remains healthy ("she has only the two spots on her body.... Medals or curses, she isn't sure how to wear them"), but she is still not permitted to leave and remains a captive for most of her life. The novel is divided into three sections, with the middle (and by far most substantial) section revealing its story through artifacts, as each object evokes a haunting, smaller story. At times the characters are drawn as artifacts themselves, with strained, wooden dialogue ("You deserve to be with all these freaks here." "There are no freaks here, only people who are sick"). As if to mimic his protagonist's bracketed sense of time, Talarigo details minute scenes and interactions, then jumps decades ahead. It's an effect that de-emphasizes his dramatic subject matter and allows the emotional consequences of the situation to surface in unexpected ways, as when Miss Fuji finds solace in watching children playing on a nearby shore. Drawing from actual medical history, Talarigo succeeds in telling a compelling story whose strength is its elegant simplicity.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Rarely do books so captivate a reader and hold their attention to the very end.
Ginger Marcinkowski
It most certainly captured the authenticity of the time and circumstances and the author's empathy for his characters make each one a living person.
M. B. Walters
Jeff Talarigo's prose has an elegance in its beautiful, emotional simplicity and precisely connected images.
D. Merrimon Crawford

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In this quietly moving novel of a young woman's life on the leper's island of Nagashima, Talarigo speaks of horror with tenderness, of dreams interrupted, families who disown the contaminated, condemning them to a slow death in isolation. Even though a cure is found in the 1940's, the officials refuse to release those patients whose disease can be controlled, fearing a public outcry. Consequently, the lepers remain on the island, sharing their stories, skills and incredible generosity. Voiceless in a society that will not hear them; the lepers comfort each other, compassionate in a world that has none for them
The story begins on the leper's island of Nagashima in 1948, where a young woman stands at the base of the suicide cliff. There desperate bodies have cast themselves into oblivion rather than face the empty years ahead. She looks across the sea, where the pearl divers begin their daily diving adventures, a life she once shared. Her disease has not progressed; in fact, there is medication to impede the progress of the disease. Still a young woman, "Miss Fuji" has only her memories of diving, deeper and deeper into the comforting silence of the sea.
Miss Fuji gives daily massages to the other lepers, cataloging their loss of fingers and toes, the result of an absence of nerve endings, causing frequent damage to limbs. At night the patients take turns, rotating watches in their vigilance against rats that nibble at the fingers and toes of sleeping victims. The pearl diver swims in at night to surrounding islands, her secret rebellion, where children play during the day. As the years pass, and the lepers are fractionally integrated into society, Miss Fuji is tethered to the only home she has really known, tethered by her heart and her emotions.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By N. Buehler on April 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
What a beautiful book.
The main character, a strong young woman who is just learning the arduous trade of a Pearl Diver finds spots on her arm that can only be leprosy. She is disowned, and banished to a leprosorium. Forced to chose a new identity, as "Miss Fuji" she cares for other more severely affected patients.
The bulk of the story is told from her perspective, as she looks through objects found in the closed leprosorium.
The writing is beautiful, and instantly transports you to another world.
Every word is carefully, sparely placed.
The author's powers of description, and ability to create mood are remarkable.
Savor reading this, do not skim.
Amazing that this is a first novel!
I am recommending this to everyone I know, and plan to discuss this with my book clubs.

This book feels inspired by one of my favorite books of all time, The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Crigger on February 24, 2013
Format: Paperback
I was much more excited about the thought of reading this book than the actual story itself. The timeline covered (1948-1990ish) is long and the book short, so it jumps from decade to decade quickly. It's also somewhat repetitive, delivering the same message several times-"I am a leper and shunned wrongly by society, it hurts me." But by far the part that was hard to wrap my head around was the dialogue. It's a first person, choppy, random thought process that was hard to follow. In his defense, Mr. Talagrio has tackled a tough subject and done a good job exposing the realities of dealing with a debilitating disease with inadequate medical knowledge. But I was disappointed at the lack of a real plot and the poor way in which that lack of a plot was told. Kudos to Mr. Talagrio for taking on such an admiral subject but less than stellar execution makes this one mediocre.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Cheryl Russell VINE VOICE on March 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
She's a nineteen year old Japanese girl beginning her dream career--pearl diver. It's a grueling job, diving for pearls, but one she wouldn't trade for anything else. Then the spots appear--first one on her forearm, then another on her back. She gets a deep cut on her forearm while diving, but doesn't feel the pain or the blood that flows from the gash. When she finally goes to a doctor, he renders the worst diagnosis she could hear in Japan at that place and time--leprosy.

She's taken into custody and moved to an isolated leprosarium which is itself isolated on an island. She is stripped of her identity for she is now a source of shame to her family and her nation. She has no family, no past. She's forced to choose a new name and begin a new life with a new family--patients forced into isolation just like her. The leprosarium is a harsh place, breaking the spirit of most who enter here.

"The Pearl Diver" examines the effect this type of enforced community has on individuals who still see themselves as people even though their society tells them they are not. The long-term effects are shown through Miss Fuji, the young pearl diver, as the story progresses through the years.

My biggest problem with the book was keeping track of the timeline. It was difficult at times to figure out how much time had actually passed; how old Miss Fuji now was, how long she had been on the island. But overall, Jeff Talarigo's novel is a walk alongside a young Japanese girl as she is forced to live out a life she never wanted, in a society that considers her untouchable. As the years pass and the fear and loathing of leprosy subsides, will Miss Fuji be able to make the change as well?
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