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Butterfly's Child    by Angela Davis-Gardner order for
Butterfly's Child
by Angela Davis-Gardner
Order:  USA  Can
Dial, 2012 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Angela Davis-Gardner, author of Plum Wine, now brings readers another historical, Butterfly's Child, that takes off from the ending of Puccini's tragic opera, Madame Butterfly (the novel opens on a synopsis of the opera).

In May 1895, U.S. Navy Lieutenant B.F Pinkerton returns to his geisha Butterfly, Cio-Cio-san, and their small son Benji. But, sadly, he does not come alone; he is accompanied by his new wife Kate. Cio-Cio-san's learning of this leads to the tragic scene in which Pinkerton finds his son gazing on the bloodied body of his mother. A note asks Pinkerton to take his son back to the United States with him.

Kate Pinkerton is a good woman and agrees to raise the child, though she later regrets it. They journey together to settle on the Pinkerton farm in Plum River, Illinois, telling everyone that Benji is a rescued orphan. There are adjustments on all sides (Kate's to her mother-in-law, Frank Pinkerton's to the life of a farmer, and young Benji's to a totally alien culture). He holds tight to his memories of his mother and Japan.

As he grows up, Benji is increasingly unhappy about the lies Frank tells about his origins. He makes friends but there is constant tension at home, especially when Frank and Kate have other children. Frank also starts drinking too much. But he does give Benji a colt, Kuro, that means a lot to him.

Eventually, when the truth about his birth is revealed and tensions at home erupt, Benji embarks on an odyssey with Kuro, that takes him (after some setbacks) west to the Japanese community in San Francisco and later to Japan, where he finds his own life partner and learns the truth of his mother's fate. I recommend Butterfly's Child to you as a remarkable novel, portraying a collision of cultures in which the West comes off very much the worst.

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