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The Pearl Diver by Jeff Talarigo
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Jan 20, 2009

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bookshelves: literary
Read in January, 2009

People like to blame misfortune on its victims. When a sore on a young pearl diver’s arm is diagnosed as leprosy, she is chased down, declared dead, and confined to a small island populated by thousands of other patients. She stays there the rest of her life.

Miss Fuji, the pearl diver, meets her life’s trials –estrangement from her family, conflict with island administrators, personal doubt- with resignation. The treatment for the physical symptoms of her disease is available from the first months of her stay at the Nagashima leprosarium, but her society’s stigma against lepers cannot be treated by pill or injection and even being cured opens no doors back to mainland society for her. Although parts of her body remain dead to sensation, Miss Fuji feels stigma keenly, and the reader is kept hoping that time will find a cure for that, too.

In this gentle book, Talarigo describes prejudice, disappointment, and human frailty honestly, but his depiction is softened by the acceptance that changes in social attitude do not arrive quickly. There is little dialogue, but the reader won’t miss it: it’s almost unnecessary because Talarigo writes silence so well. This is a thoughtful literary exploration of the treatment of lepers in Japanese society.
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