Book Continues Story Begun in Puccini's Opera
Angela Davis- Gardner, author of the newly released "Butterfly's Child," will be speaking and signing her new book at The Country Bookshop on Monday, April 4, at 4 p.m.
The opera, "Madame Butterfly," written by Puccini in 1898, is a tragic love story in which a geisha and a U.S. Navy lieutenant create a child, Benji. Lt. Pinkerton returns to America, and the geisha waits for him, her true love, in Japan and raises their child as an American. Only the lieutenant returns with his American wife, and the geisha, "Butterfly," kills herself by falling on a samurai sword.
This is where Davis-Gardner's novel begins. She answers her friend's question, shouted following a rendition of the opera, "What happens to Butterfly's child?"
Angela Davis-Gardner brings the family to the American farming Midwest and uses the opera's drama to forge complex cultural and familial dynamics. Benji grows up and desperately seeks a cultural identity, and his parents are affected by a hard Midwestern farm life and a husband's love for a dead woman.
"I was drawn to writing about a character of mixed heritage and uncertain identity, not fully Japanese nor fully American, 'a bat between cultures,' as the Japanese saying goes," says Davis-Gardner. "I had been raised in the segregated South and had long wanted to write about the appalling racial discrimination I had witnessed. I transposed my passion into Benji's tale, knowing that he would encounter discrimination in both America and Japan."
Davis-Gardner creates complicated characters against a backdrop of contrasting cultures. The book was published earlier this month and has been well received critically.
Supported by grants from The North Carolina Arts Council and The Japan Foundation, "Butterfly's Child" explores the relationship in the family, the community and ultimately between and against East and West
Davis-Gardner was a distinguished writer in her youth. She grew up in Greensboro, studied English at Duke and received her master's of fine arts degree from UNC Greensboro. She began her teaching career in Tokyo, Japan, at Tsuda College.
She has since written four books. The critically successful novel, "Felice," was twice published in France and Benton Hess, the director of musical theater at Eastman School of Music, turned the book into an opera in 2000. "Forms of Shelter," her second novel, won the Sir Walter Award for the best novel published by a North Carolinian in 1991.
Like "Butterfly's Child," Davis-Gardner's third novel deals with an American/Japanese clash and combination of cultures. "Plum Wine" was featured on NPR and was a paperback best-seller.
Angela Davis-Gardner is a professor emerita at North Carolina State University. She has taught at UNC-Chapel Hill, Guilford College and Meredith College. She was a William Blackburn Writer in Residence at Duke University in 2006, a post named for her undergraduate professor.
Call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211 for a reservation.
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