When three-year-old Benji is plucked from the security of his home in Nagasaki to live with his American father, Lt. Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, and stepmother, Kate, on their farm in Illinois, the family conceals Benji’s true identity as a child born from a liaison between an officer and a geisha, and instead tells everyone that he is an orphan.
Frank struggles to keep the farm going while coping with his guilt and longing for the deceased Butterfly. Deeply devout Kate is torn between her Christian principles and her resentment of raising another woman’s child. And Benji’s life as an outcast—neither fully American nor fully Japanese—forces him to forge an identity far from the life he has known.
When the truth about Benji surfaces, it will splinter this family’s fragile dynamic, sending repercussions spiraling through their close-knit rural community and sending Benji on the journey of a lifetime from Illinois to the Japanese settlements in Denver and San Francisco, then across the ocean to Nagasaki, where he will uncover the truth about his mother’s tragic death.
A sweeping portrait of a changing American landscape at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a Japanese culture irrevocably altered by foreign influence, Butterfly’s Child explores people in transition—from old worlds to new customs, heart’s desires to vivid realities—in an epic tale that plays out as both a conclusion to and an inspiration for one of the most famous love stories ever told.I thought it was interesting and a bit eerie that this book came in the mail the same day that the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan. Although I was already curious about the book since it is the continuation of Madame Butterfly (which I admit, I've never seen), I think the timing made it more interesting. Especially since it would be at a time when there was not so much earthly destruction. Therefore, I admit the recent events may have colored my reading of this story.
You do not have to have read or seen Madame Butterfly to read this book. The author supplies a brief synopsis of the opera so you are completely caught up in Benji's story from the beginning. And although it is mostly Benji's story, there is a change of POV in the book where you also get an insight into Mr. and Mrs. Pinkerton as well as some of the other minor players in this story. I should say that the changing POV is not smooth, but I feel it was necessary. That way the Pinkertons did not become one-dimensional villains in the story.
Benji is a sweet little boy. Witnessing his mother's suicide and then taken to a strange land with people he never met before. He knows that Mr. Pinkerton is his papa, but the man and the woman refuses to acknowledge this fact. While growing up, Benji is stripped of his Japanese heritage. As he grows he becomes more obsessed with keeping what little he remembers about Japan in an effort to cling to something of his mother. His parents, the Pinkertons, were not totally sympathetic to Benji's plight yet they are not totally ignorant of it either. However, they seem more interested in their selves and what others would think. This is what fosters their victim mentality. The author does not make the Pinkertons total monsters; within their POV, you see people who are doing the best that they know how and do honestly care for Benji's well being. They just can't seem to get past wanting to be the victim in this little play. This interferes with Benji's upbringing as well as their own satisfaction with life.
Benji's life is not completely horrid, he does find several people willing to go out of their way to help him. In fact, he is quite lucky in this respect. He finds a bit of hardship on his road back to Japan, but really, it was very minor for someone of mixed race, especially in the late 1800s/ early 1900s. By the end Benji has made a new life for himself and there is a huge twist even I did not see coming (now you know I'm not going to tell what that was... *evil laugh).
I give this story 4 stars. My biggest criticism is that the cultural corrections to the opera by the author were made at the end of the book all at once and I would have loved to see it more interspersed within the story much earlier. Perhaps in the "second act" when Benji was learning about the Japanese culture. That way the ending wouldn't have seemed as rushed as it appeared to me. However, I did enjoy this unique tale and found it to be an interesting journey.
I received this book from Goodreads first reads program and the publisher; no compensation for my review was given.
Since Japan is on our minds... I thought I'd include a list of places you can donate if you wish. These are organizations that go where there is the most need.