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Pearl Diver, the


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About the Author

Jeff Talarigo, a former journalist, lived in a Palestinian refugee camp where he wrote several works of short fiction that were published in literary journals, including The Maryland Review, The Arkansas Review, and Chanteh. He has been writing and teaching English in Japan since the early 1990s, and lives with his wife and son on the island of Kyushu.


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.

"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 Japan--across the waters and the years--to 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

This unusual debut novel set in 1940s postwar Japan renders brutality and intolerance in quiet, lyrical prose. When a 19-year-old pearl diver, the youngest of a crew working the Seto Inland Sea, discovers she is sick with leprosy, she is banished to Nagashima, an island leprosarium, where she is told to change her name and forget her past. Nagashima is its own kind of civilization, where the renamed "Miss Fuji" must care for the sicker patients, which includes helping the island doctors perform forced, often late-term abortions. Treated with drugs that make her isolation unnecessary, Miss Fuji remains healthy ("she has only the two spots on her body.... Medals or curses, she isn't sure how to wear them"), but she is still not permitted to leave and remains a captive for most of her life. The novel is divided into three sections, with the middle (and by far most substantial) section revealing its story through artifacts, as each object evokes a haunting, smaller story. At times the characters are drawn as artifacts themselves, with strained, wooden dialogue ("You deserve to be with all these freaks here." "There are no freaks here, only people who are sick"). As if to mimic his protagonist's bracketed sense of time, Talarigo details minute scenes and interactions, then jumps decades ahead. It's an effect that de-emphasizes his dramatic subject matter and allows the emotional consequences of the situation to surface in unexpected ways, as when Miss Fuji finds solace in watching children playing on a nearby shore. Drawing from actual medical history, Talarigo succeeds in telling a compelling story whose strength is its elegant simplicity. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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