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Butterfly's Child


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Reading Group Guide

Discussion questions, Butterfly’s Child


1. Why do you suppose the author chose to tell the story from four different points of view (five including Butterfly’s in chapter one)? Imagine the story  told only in Benji’s perspective: What would be gained, and what lost?


2. How is the multicultural focus of the novel relevant today?  In what ways is Benji American, and in what ways Japanese?  Is he able to unify these parts of his character?


3. Do you consider Butterfly’s motivations for her actions in chapter one justifiable?   Did your perspective on this change over the course of the novel?


4. Imagine a conversation about motherhood between Butterfly, Kate, and Rinn—what do you think each of them would have to say?


5. How do you account for Kate’s depression? Can you imagine her happily married to Frank if they had never made the trip to Japan?


6. Is Kate’s spirituality a comfort to her? Why or why not?


7. Frank is particularly cruel to Benji after the death of the cow (pages 86-92). What are the roots of his ambivalent feelings about his son?  Does Frank become a more sympathetic character over the course of the novel? If so, what causes him to change?


8. At what point do you think Frank’s mother becomes aware of Benji’s parentage?  Do you view Mrs. Pinkerton as a sympathetic or unsympathetic character?


9. What role does Horatio Keast play in the novel? 


10. Benji makes a revelation (pages 138-139) that has tragic consequences for his American family, and that also sets him on his journey across the United States and eventually to Japan.  Do you think that this revelation was intentional in a subconscious way, or entirely accidental? 


11. Benji’s quest is primarily fueled by the loss of his mother.   How does the power of the absent father also figure in his search?


12. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky wrote that “beautiful, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education…Even if only one good memory remains with us in our hearts, that alone may serve some day for our salvation.” How do childhood memories sustain or otherwise affect Benji, Kate, and Frank?


13. Digby Moffett is a classic trickster figure.  Although Benji falls under his spell, are there ways in which the experience with Digby is helpful to Benji’s development?


14. Discuss the use of butterfly imagery in the novel.


15. How do you feel about the liberties the author took with the story presented in the opera Madama Butterfly?


16. What do you think will happen to these characters after the close of the novel? 

Product Details

A Novel
Davis Gardner, Angela
Davis-Gardner, Angela
The Dial Press
Identity (psychology)
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.6 x 6.39 x 1.19 in 1.25 lb

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Butterfly's Child Used Hardcover
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Product details 352 pages Dial Press - English 9780385340946 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Immediately engaging, this quiet and measured sequel to Puccini's Madame Butterfly begins with the dramatic détente of Puccini's opera: Cio-Cio-san (Butterfly) kills herself when Pinkerton, the father of her son, Benji, returns with an American wife after four years away. Benji then travels with his father and stepmother to flat central Illinois, the polar opposite of Japan, to begin a life of hard farm labor, becoming an outsider within his family and community. Though Davis-Garner (Plum Wine) inherited her characters, they are complex, dimensional beings in her hands. There are no stock villains, perfect heroes, or tragic victims; as Benji grows up and we follow his journey in search of the family, descended from samurai, that supposedly awaits his return to Japan, the author traces the sad descent of Benji's stepmother into madness and father into alcoholism, without being trite or moralistic. Though some of the tension drains from the plot in the book's middle, Davis-Gardner reaps most of the dramatic benefits of Puccini's plot while simultaneously creating an unrushed meditation on character. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
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