Monday, January 02, 2006


The Pearl Diver, Jeff Talarigo, Random House, Inc, 2004, 237 pp

I did not like this book at all. It is about a 19 year old Japanese woman in 1948 who is a pearl diver. At that time, this meant someone who dove for shellfish everyday, then turned over her catch to be sold at the markets. The divers got to keep the pearls they found. It was a cold and grueling profession but she loved it.

One day she discovers that she has leprosy. At that time there was no cure and even less understanding of the disease. Since it turns bodies into hideousness, I can see how it inspired mostly fear. The only known way at that time, to control its spread was to quarantine anyone who had it.

So off she went to a leprosarium on an island, leaving behind her family and any identity in her former life. It was considered about the worst sort of black mark on a family to have a member contract leprosy, so the diseased person was forgotten and basically became a non-person. Conditions at the leprosarium were bad and it was not unlike being in prison. She remained there for the rest of her life, even though medication was developed, even though she could have left, as her case was mild. She actually tried leaving in her later years, by which time she had cancer, but went back to the island to die there.

I think the author was trying to show a woman rising above adversity but I was not uplifted. I just felt yucky the whole time I was reading it and thankfully it was short. The style was disjointed and somewhat pretensious. I read it for a reading group, but felt so negative about the book that I skipped the meeting.

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