This book is a soulful novel of acceptance and denial, written in an etherial tone that has the resonance of free form poetry. The story is permeated with a sense of melancholia, but rendered with persistent dignity. It follows the life of a young Japanese woman diagnosed with leprosy at age 19, and who is exiled to live on an island leper colony with a new identity and new name, Miss Fuji.
Soon after her arrival to the leprosarium (post WWII) modern medicines became available that stop the progress of the disease, and it becomes established knowledge that the disease is not contagious when controlled. But change to social acceptance is slow. Injections that keep the symptoms at bay do not impact the perceptions of those who live outside their community where the stigma of the disease continues.
The pathos contained in this story touches the reader’s soul partly due of descriptions of cruelty, often casual, inflicted on the patients with leprosy. There are several explicit description of involuntary abortions, one as late as 7 months, imposed on female patients. The jarring impact of the several horrific scenes described within the book leads, in the end, to a sense of a life’s battles well endured.
Over the life time of Miss Fuji the leper colony gradually depopulates as old patients die off and the inflow of new patients ceased. Progress toward elimination of the disease, of course, is a good thing. But the passing of an era and the ending of a community is also sad.
As the story nears its end we learn that the leper colony is a metaphor of real life outside the colony. When Miss Fuji explores the world outside the colony she discovers that there are others ostracized by society.
In the Epilogue we learn of an example of blessings returning as described in the saying, "Cast your bread upon the waters." (Ref. Ecclesiastes 11:1)
The following is a description of this book from the 2012 PageADay's Book Lover's Calendar:
This novel about a young Japanese pearl diver in the 1940s is rendered with precision and depth. Diagnosed with leprosy and banished to an island leper colony, “Miss Fuji” (inmates must take on new identities) lives out a life filled with loneliness, shame, and neglect. Somehow, in her endurance, she maintains her dignity, becoming a caretaker for the other patients. Colum McCann raves, “One of the most honest, tender, and inventive books I’ve read in years.”THE PEARL DIVER
, by Jeff Talarigo (Anchor, 2005)