To quote from the review of the audiobook in KLIATT, January, 2005: An elegant and poetic story of a 19-year-old Japanese pearl diver still learning her craft a few years after the end of WW II. When she discovers that she has leprosy, her world dissolves. She hides for a while but eventually is discovered and taken to the island of Nagashima. It is a dirty, foul, crowded place where the lepers are isolated and cruelly treated. They must exchange their family names for a number and choose a new name because they have disgraced their families. She becomes Miss Fugi. Talarigo reveals what is in her mind through intimate detail. He describes the persistence of the patients as time goes on to improve their lot and to discover beauty in their lives and surroundings. Even after medications are discovered that halt and eventually cure the disease, it is decades before conditions improve. As Miss Fugi matures, she becomes a nurse and fully involves herself with the other patients, developing strong friendships. A few excursions away from the island help her realize what a home it has become for her. KLIATT Codes: SA*Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Random House, Anchor, 237p., Ages 15 to adult.
Through the experiences of a young woman who was a pearl diver prior to contracting leprosy, this intensely emotional debut novel chronicles life in a Japanese leper colony following World War II. Although her case is mild, the stigma associated with leprosy alienates her completely. Her name is erased from family records, and she is recognized only as a number, though among inmates at the colony she goes by the name she gives herself-Miss Fugi. The conditions in the colony are horrific, especially in the abortion clinic since inmates are not allowed to bear children. Changes occur slowly, though for Miss Fugi they take a lifetime. "A small step forward is better than one back," says Miss Fugi's friend, the poet Mr. Shirayama. With the discovery of a vaccine, the need for isolated colonies disappears, but life outside the colony does not provide the freedom the inmates had imagined. This revealing work is filled with heartfelt characters and disturbing events and is written with a compassion and skill rarely displayed in a debut novel. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-David A. Berone, Univ. of New Hampshire, Durham Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
An impressionistic debut about a young Japanese pearl diver who is sent to a leper colony. Nowadays considered primarily a disease of the tropics (where it has become increasingly rare), leprosy was a global scourge until quite recently: Talarigo's story takes place on an island leprosarium off the coast of Japan in the years following WWII. Here, sealed off from all contact with the outside world, the confirmed cases are sent to begin their lives anew under the most terrible circumstances imaginable. The 19-year-old pearl diver who arrives in 1948 and takes the name Miss Fuji (all lepers in Japan at this time are declared legally dead and required to assume new identities in the colony) has only a mild case of leprosy, but she is disowned by her family all the same and committed to the island for life. There, she becomes a medical assistant in the clinic, a place that offers little more than massages (or abortions) by way of treatment. The tale is told in episodic vignettes that move lightly back and forth among the various patients and administrators. We meet Miss Min, a storyteller; Mr. Shirayam, a gardener; Miss Morikowa, a Christian; Mr. Nogami, a Communist; Mr. Oyama, an urn painter; and the pregnant Miss Matsu (who wants, against all regulations, to keep her baby). The dreadful background of Miss Fuji's hopelessness is, if anything, intensified by the advent of new drugs capable of containing or reversing the disease-and by the stubborn refusal of the national health officials to authorize the discharge of arrested cases (like Miss Fuji's) back to normal society. Her sense of isolation is made even worse by her ability, as a diver, to swim across the straits to the mainlandwhenever she wants to. A keenly observed but rather lifeless portrait. So little happens that it's difficult to stay involved, let alone interested, throughout the whole.
“Hypnotic . . . Talarigo’s prose is as evocative as a Hokusai woodcut.” Los Angeles Times
“At once exquisite and horrifying, a piece of delicacy forged out of pain and the struggle against numbness. . . . There is no denying the loveliness of this book. . . . In Miss Fuji, [Talarigo] has given us a genuine hero.” Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Transformative. . . . Explores the question of what a person becomes after having been stripped of everything: name, family and function, privacy and freedom. Talarigo’s answer seems to be that we are saved not by what we are but by who we are, the part of us that exists within the flesh, that is capable of transcendence.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Luminous. . . . Everything looks magical through [Talarigo’s] lens.” The Baltimore Sun
“One of the most honest, tender, and inventive books I've read in years. Talarigo never steps out of culture, out of voice, out of place; and yet this is a universal story, one of love, one of neglect, one of shame. . . . He can find redemption even in the narrowest corridors of the human spirit.” Colum McCann, author of Dancer
“[A] meditation on endurance and socially sanctioned cruelty. . . . A quiet triumph.” Chicago Tribune
"Absorbing and original. Talarigo has managed to create a tone and mood that are themselves expressions of a time and a place and a people. The resulting light radiates outward from one small society in post-war Japanacross the waters and the yearsto where the reader sits, still deeply immersed after the last page has been turned." John Burnham Schwartz, author of Reservation Road
"Utterly believable. . . . In Talarigo's hands, the leprosarium and all the humiliations that go with it take on a mythical aspect, while remaining intimate and specific. . . . The Pearl Diver does not feel like a first novel. There is nothing tentative, nothing lacking from this moving story." The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
"Quietly powerful. . . . This is a lyrically told tale of ugliness redeemed and lives changed by small acts with large consequences. " Liza Dalby, author of Geisha
"Spare . . . lyrical. . . . [Talarigo] has absorbed the delicate timbre of Japanese culture and literature . . . [and uses this] sensibility to paint bold, clean brush strokes that allow readers to envision the true picture. . . . A moving, simple, yet powerful story of how a soul can find a measure of dignity and freedom even in the most daunting circumstances. The life of [Miss Fuji] reverberates within the hearts of the fortunate people who get to discover her." The Anniston Star
"An absolute, breathtaking gem. . . . Heartbreaking, haunting, but ultimately hopeful . . . a true secret treasure. . . . This one's the real thing." Asian Week
"Talarigo has pulled a magnificent pearl of his own from the Inland Sea, a perfectly crafted, beautifully controlled and subtly multi-layered story about belonging and isolation that quickly transcends our baser fascination with the dreaded disease." Fort Myers News-Press
"[A] terrific debut . . . [A] wise and merciful book. . . . This tautly written tale . . . simmers with quiet outrage not just at the horror of difference that prevails in a society built on conformity, but at the near-universal impulse to strip the sick and outcast of all that makes them human. . . . A moving poem to the tenacity of ordinary human dignity under unspeakable conditions." LA Weekly
"Lovely, lyrical. . . . A gem you must not miss." Westchester Journal-News