The backstory: When Jennifer Egan listed Butterfly's Child as her favorite read of 2011, I knew I wanted to read it.
The basics: In Butterfly's Child, Angela Davis-Gardner imagines what happens after Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly. (The novel opens with a synopsis of the opera.) Butterfly's child, Benji, goes to the United States with his father, Pinkerton, and his father's new wife, Kate. They live on a small Illinois farm.
My thoughts: I knew nothing about Madame Butterfly going into this novel, but I found the premise fascinating aside from the opera: a half-Japanese half-white boy witnesses his mother's suicide, leaves Japan with his father and stepmother, both of whom are essentially strangers to him. To seem proper, the Pinkertons claim they are adopting the boy, but Benji knows the truth. What follows, initially, is a haunting portrayal of life on a Midwestern farm at the turn of the century. Benji longs for Japan. Pinkerton longs for a life not on the farm. Kate longs for a child of her own and intellectual intrigue. In truth, it was quite depressing and rather tragic. Blessedly, Davis-Gardner is an excellent writer and moved the story along by writing mostly in small vignettes. The scope of this novel is immense, and the more I read, the more intrigued I became by these people.
Favorite passage: "What we imagine never happens, does it?" he said. "But some things are far superior."
The verdict: I loved this novel, and it's difficult to discuss its brilliance without revealing certain details, so I will say this: Butterfly's Child is structured like its own opera, and the interlude is purely majestic. Act three is a show-stopper. Davis-Gardner takes these characters on a marvelous journey, and I loved every minute of it. The book captivated me from the beginning, but it got better with each page.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 363 pages
Publication date: March 8, 2011
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