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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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2381348,487 (3.78)4
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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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
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 |
How do we tell a story of human isolation? Jeff Talarigo’s The Pearl Diver provides a precise and balanced and beautiful example. Mr. Talarigo collapses long decades of a woman’s life spent in a Japanese leprosarium into a spare, moving tale. Its light, almost delicate, touch with major human issues provides a gratifying payoff.

At the outset of the novel, our nineteen-year-old unnamed heroine belongs to an exclusive group: she is one of a handful of pearl divers, women of all ages who plumb the depths of Japan’s Seto Inland Sea and bring up lobster, clams, other mussels, and on lucky days, pearls. She is still young and naïve when she’s forced to leave her beloved vocation. She’s found to have the dreaded curse-like plague of leprosy. In an instant she falls from her exalted, insular position to the level of the lowest outcast of Japanese society. She’s shunned, sent away to an island prison of the leprosarium, and even forced to change her name.

It turns out she has a non-infectious form of the disease, and treatments are developed during her early years in care keep her own case from progressing very far. She becomes a helper to the staff, giving massages, transporting those worse-off in wheelchairs, pulling nurse duty. She retains a certain independence in the patient community, earning its affection and respect, while making the facility’s officials suspicious.

Events unfold with an understated force: our heroine adopts the name Miss Fuji, and we learn of the climb of the famous mountain with her uncle when a little girl. She sneaks off the isolation of the island to her hometown, but is caught and sent to solitary confinement, and then forced to help with the grisly eugenic work done at the clinic. She visits Kyoto and sees various sights there to honor a man who has passed away. When at length, after struggles against the superstitious authorities, and more than forty years in the isolation of quarantine, Miss Fuji takes a flat in normal society. Maybe she’s planning her own death. She finds, however, an alien world, where pearl diving is turned into a tourist attraction, featuring nubile, bikini-clad girls who have never been more than ankle-deep.

In the end, though, she makes a surprising decision about the end of her days. Her life has been one of service to those even less fortunate than herself. At various times during her life, she knows others value and love her, and in their limited ways, return the charity she herself has shown. This is a tale of quiet heartbreak, but also of fulfilling forays into relations with other human beings, united in their isolation. Mr. Talarigo has written a restrained, graceful examination of how afflicted souls support each other, and how the superstitious so easily and brutally shun them. A beautiful, balanced book, and recommended very highly.

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2012/04/pearl-diver-by-jeff-talarigo.html ( )
  LukeS | Apr 29, 2012 |
A book where specificity of details help to ground readers in the world of a Japanese pearl diver. The details about leprosy and its effects on the body as well as the social, mental, and emotional state of the people who contract it are exceptionally moving and intricately entwined with the life of the main character. Talarigo’s use of artifacts to recount the story touches upon the notion that our histories can be discerned through the objects that we leave behind. In other words, objects/artifacts are the physical embodiments of memories, the tangible objects that transport us to another time and place—something Talarigo does so wonderfully with his prose. ( )
  JosephJ | Dec 16, 2011 |
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. A story told through artifacts that are left behind when the past is done. ( )
  punxsygal | Aug 20, 2011 |
This is a very moving beautiful story of a Japanese pearl diver who gets leprosy. It is her story of the rest of her life on the island Nagashima that is a leproserium. ( )
  cookiemo | Apr 4, 2011 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:45 -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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