Tuesday, April 17, 2012

book review: Butterfly's Child by Angela Davis-Gardner

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
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Butterfly's Child from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

14 comments:

  1. With every review I read of this one, I become more convinced I want to read it. I love the cover too!

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    1. Lola--you definitely should read it. I just adored it and am so glad--it was unexpected in many ways!

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  2. I just grabbed this one on audio, and can't wait to get started with it! It sounds like such a powerful read, and one that deserves the attention that it's getting. Great review today. I enjoyed reading your thoughts!

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    1. I'm so glad to hear you picked up a copy! I think this one would work really well on audio. Davis-Gardner's writing was so fluid.

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  3. I was so not in the mood for a tragedy but I had to read this one, as you know, for the tour -- and ohemgee, I am so glad I did, because like you, I really enjoyed this novel. The mood was great -- dark and sad and tragic but not, like, miserable (even though it *was* miserable, too!) -- Davis-Gardner's writing style was wonderful, her characters great, and I loved that this was a novel about rural America, women in the late 19th century, and Japan in that era as well -- layered hist fic is a favorite.

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    1. Yes--the layers were so interesting! She tackled a lot in this novel, and I was glad Benji got to grow up rather quickly because the farm life was rather depressing.

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  4. I think I unfairly disregarded this one because I don't really know much about Madame Butterfly or care. But this sounds like something I'd really enjoy. I read Plum Wine by this author a while ago and really like that one!

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    1. So glad to hear you liked Plum Wine... I impulsively bought it for my Kindle this morning. I'm not an opera lover (or even liker), but it really is just a starting point for these characters. She opens with a two-page synopsis of the opera, and that was plenty for me to jump right in!

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  5. I was steering clear of this as I know nothing about Madame Butterfly but from your review it sounds like that's not a problem. It's on my wishlist now :)

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    1. While I would be interested to hear if someone quite familiar with Madame Butterfly found extra meaning, I never felt like I was missing anything and quite enjoyed it--hope you do too!

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  6. I haven't seen/know nothing about Madame Butterfly so seeing that you enjoyed this so much makes me think that this would be worth adding to my TBR regardless. Consider it added!

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  7. Just ... wow! Sounds like this book blew you away, and I can see why!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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    1. Thanks, Heather! This book did blow me away. It was so, so good.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!