Butterfly’s Child

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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.

Buy Book:  Indiebound / Random House / Barnes & Noble

Reviews and Quotes

  • The Japan Times
    Western opera's opulent pageantry contradicts traditional Japanese understated aesthetics. In the novel "Butterfly's Child," Angela Davis-Gardner resolves this difference by crafting a subdued, multilayered marvel of delicacy as she imagines what happens to the half-American love child of Giacomo Puccini's famed character, Madame Butterfly or Cio-Cio to opera fans. Read Full Article
  • Washington Post
    “Extraordinary….Sometimes bold and gripping, often delicate and sensual, Butterfly’s Child is utterly unique and entirely enchanting.” Read Full Article
  • Opera News
    “With deft imagination, and prose as delicately suggestive as the designs on a kimono, Angela Davis-Gardner spins a provocative and persuasive account of what transpires after the curtain falls (on the opera Madama Butterfly). Familiarity with (the opera) is not a prerequisite for appreciating this finely wrought novel….That said, anyone unfamiliar with Puccini will likely seek out a production immediately after turning the last page, while fans of the opera will never experience it in quite the same way again.” Read Full Article
  • Library Journal
    "Very appealing, and not just for fans of Davis-Gardner’s previous work or fans of Japanese American fiction, this is the type of novel many readers will want to finish in one sitting."
  • Publishers Weekly 
    “Immediately engaging…Though Davis-Garner (Plum Wine) inherited her characters, they are complex, dimensional beings in her hands.”
  • Kirkus Reviews
    “A richly imagined literary sequel to Puccini's Madama Butterfly…In its way, it holds its own alongside the modern Western masterpieces of Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy. For all its melancholy and madness, it strikes themes of hope and renewal, and believing in the unbelievable.”
  • Booklist
    Opera buffs and literary fiction fans will appreciate the depth and tenor of this worthy successor to a classic tale of love and loss.
  • Karen Joy FowlerAuthor of The Jane Austen Book Club
    “Who ever thought the story was over? There was, after all, a child. Butterfly’s Child begins where Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly ends. Expansively imagined, carefully researched, and beautifully told, this is the perfect book for anyone who has ever longed to know what came next after that famous unhappily-ever-after ending.”
  • Lee SmithAuthor of The Last Girls
    “Secrets unfold like a Japanese fan in Butterfly's Child. With jewel-like prose, Angela Davis-Gardner has created an enchantment—a novel so beautiful, mysterious, and compelling that I had to stay up into the wee hours to finish it in one sitting.”
  • Jill McCorkleAuthor of Going Away Shoes
    “Brilliant and inspired . . . Butterfly's Child reveals, in ways both devastating and surprising, how the human heart and the world we live in are rarely as they appear. Once you enter Benji's world and begin his journey, there is no turning back and no slowing down."
  • Josephine HumphreysSouthern Book Award–winning author of Nowhere Else on Earth
    “I read Butterfly’s Child in one day, totally hooked. It is a captivating novel of love, guilt, sin, justice—and how all these things are, in time, transformed surprisingly and inevitably.”
  • Oscar HijuelosPulitzer Prize–winning author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
    “An utterly fascinating and entertaining novel whose transcultural themes are particularly relevant today. It is also a deftly and lyrically written novel, well deserving of a wide readership.”
  • Richard BauschAuthor of Peace
    “Angela Davis-Gardner weds artful, beautifully sensuous prose to deeply involving, page-turning story. She’s among our best. Take the word ‘our’ in that sentence to mean everyone, anywhere—the whole human family.”
  • Fred ChappellFormer poet laureate of North Carolina and author of I Am One of You
    “What happened to the son of Madame Butterfly, the tragic heroine of the operatic masterpiece? Davis-Gardner tells his enthralling story in a complex but tightly knit novel that is entrancing to read, beautiful to remember.”
  • Elizabeth CoxAuthor of The Slow Moon
    “Butterfly’s Child is one of the finest books by a living writer that I have read in years. Davis-Gardner explores, with great tenderness, a boy’s search for family, and she moves between the American and the Japanese cultures in a way that both informs and involves the reader completely.”
  • Peggy PayneAuthor of Sister India
    “Beautifully written and deeply stirring, this is a timeless rendering of marriage at its best and worst, of the lengths a parent will go for a child, of how one decision or action can roll on and on in its effects. Butterfly’s Child has the drama of an opera and the meticulous realism of a profound psychological novel.”
  • Susan Richards ShreveAuthor of A Student of Living Things
    "A lovely, haunting novel, layered and beautifully written…I was captured by this book and couldn't put it down."
  • David GuyAuthor of Jake Fades and The Autobiography of My Body
    “Amid the dullness and small mindedness of 19th century American life, Davis-Gardner's Japanese characters—especially the indomitable Benji—stand in bright contrast.  Davis-Gardner enlightens us with her subtle insights and startles us with one major surprise, in this touching story of an Asian mother who sacrifices everything for her child.”
  • Atlanta Journal & Constitution
    A “sensuous, evocative ‘sequel’ to Puccini’s classic opera…It is a novel that deserves to be read in one sitting… The characters hate and love with murderous intensity whether plowing a field, quietly embroidering a sampler, or canning beets. And their drama, played out with no less passion in cornfields and general stores, sparsely furnished bedrooms and musty parlors, moves toward an ending as unexpected as it is revealing.”
  • The Christian Science Monitor.
    “This is a tale of consequences, both intended and unintended. Actors often set in play chain reactions beyond one’s control…Davis-Gardner’s characters…are human, with all the complexity and range of emotion that entails… In “Butterfly’s Child,” she has crafted a story appealing to those who avoid opera as well as fans who also may have wondered what happened to Butterfly’s child.”

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