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The Pearl Diver by Jeff Talarigo
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The Pearl Diver (edition 2004)

by Jeff Talarigo

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2501745,873 (3.75)7
Member:PaulCranswick
Title:The Pearl Diver
Authors:Jeff Talarigo
Info:Nan A. Talese (2004), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Your library, Modern Fiction
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Tags:FICTION HITLIST

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The Pearl Diver by Jeff Talarigo

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This is the story of the life of a young Japanese pearl diver who contracts leprosy, is disowned by her family, shunned by society, and exiled to the island of Nagashima, a colony of lepers. Ultimately it is a tale of strength and dignity, compassion and courage. For being such a small novel, it took me a while to read. I'd read a few pages and put it down, but I was always compelled to pick it back up and continue to read. So it was a slow read, but well worth it. ( )
  cjservis | Jan 17, 2016 |
A hauntingly beautiful book. She is a pearl diver. She goes into the sea, draws in a large breath and dives deeply for as long as the breath lasts. She loves the feel of the sea and hates the winters that take her from it. The spot on her arm is small. The cut across it is not painful. But her life is turned upside down when the policemen take her away. She is number 2645. She becomes known as Miss "Fuji". Her life in the sea is no more. ( )
  punxsygal | Jan 16, 2016 |
People like to blame misfortune on its victims. When a sore on a young pearl diver’s arm is diagnosed as leprosy, she is chased down, declared dead, and confined to a small island populated by thousands of other patients. She stays there the rest of her life.

Miss Fuji, the pearl diver, meets her life’s trials –estrangement from her family, conflict with island administrators, personal doubt- with resignation. The treatment for the physical symptoms of her disease is available from the first months of her stay at the Nagashima leprosarium, but her society’s stigma against lepers cannot be treated by pill or injection and even being cured opens no doors back to mainland society for her. Although parts of her body remain dead to sensation, Miss Fuji feels stigma keenly, and the reader is kept hoping that time will find a cure for that, too.

In this gentle book, Talarigo describes prejudice, disappointment, and human frailty honestly, but his depiction is softened by the acceptance that changes in social attitude do not arrive quickly. There is little dialogue, but the reader won’t miss it: it’s almost unnecessary because Talarigo writes silence so well. This is a thoughtful literary exploration of the treatment of lepers in Japanese society.
( )
  eaterofwords | Nov 16, 2014 |
Intriguing how the tale of the Japanese leper colony was told in the middle of book. There were multiple numbered and described "artifacts". For example: Artifact Number 1390 A packet of sunflower seeds And then the story takes off for a few pages to describe for anywhere from 1 paragraph to 6 pages how that artifact came into being in the leper colony ( )
  nancynova | Oct 15, 2014 |
During a wintery camping trip, this book has finally come off of the pile to be read. Having so many books and so little time, I have seriously been considering skimming off the ones I didn't think I would get round to reading, and had I not been in the middle of a field in a blizzard this is likely to have been one of them. I am sooo pleased it wasn't.

This is definitely one of those books where the cover belies the beauty within. Jeff Talarigo - who I had not heard of previously - has such a way with words, I was reminded of Ha Jin and Pearl S Buck. Maybe his time spent living in Asian cultures has given him an understanding of the way of thinking, rhythm and life that I think is so special and quite unique in describing things so simply yet so evocatively. It really is pure poetry.

I had no idea what the book was about, never mind the historical reality. It has certainly spurred me on to finding out how much of it is true: even as I was reading it, I knew that some of the horrors described could only be based on fact, which is the case.

I loved journeying with 'Miss Fuji' through the ocean and then through the passage of her life, seeing her experiences through equally naive eyes. I loved the interaction between the patients, and also the staff. I really loved seeing the progression of time, and the parallel between going from a more draconian to a more enlightened time, seeing also that things which should be a given - respect for nature and the environment - suffer in the face of enlightenment. Which naturally begs the question: is it truly any better than it was before, or have we lost the beauty of a simple life?

I saw in another review someone had described it as the saddest book they had ever read. In spite of everything, I don't see it as sad: I see it as a triumph of human nature, spirit, of tenacity and compassion. I see it as a celebration of nature and nurture, a story which must be told not only to remember the past but also to preserve and respect the future.

It turns out this book was a prize winner (2005 American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Foundation Award; also named a 2005 Kiriyama Prize Notable Book), and deservedly so. Chances are it should have had more attention, however I must say that some of the phrasing/grammar was a little clumsy at times (although I was reading a proof copy, so this may well have been ironed out before print). A great read none-the-less.

If you like this, others I would recommend are The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck (one of my all time favourite books) and Waiting by Ha Jin. ( )
  jazzee2 | Mar 23, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385510519, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:32 -0400)

"In 1948, a nineteen-year-old Japanese pearl diver is in her fourth season of perfecting the techniques of her age-old occupation. But her dreams of spending her life diving in the waters of the Inland Sea are shattered when she discovers that she has leprosy. She knows that the shame attached to the disease is inescapable: rejection by her family is imminent, exile unavoidable. No more than two months elapse before authorities send her off to a leprosarium on the island of Nagashima, and although it is only seven miles from her home, it is a world away from all that is familiar to her. At once, she is instructed to forget her past, to strike her name from the koseki, the family register, and ordered to choose a new name." "As "Miss Fuji" looks around her, she sees her own future in the debilitated bodies and the lives of more than two thousand other patients. But her "future" never comes; her own case of leprosy remains a mild one owing to the discovery of a medicine that impedes the disease's progression in its victims. Yet she is not permitted to leave Nagashima, and over time, she wonders whether she could even survive back on the mainland. In the end, it is her constant connection to the sea and her moving encounters with those around her - a writer, a Korean storyteller, a gardener, a tanka poet, an urn painter - that give her insight into her own true nature and the deep wellspring of courage she needs to reclaim her freedom."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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