Jeff Talarigo, a former journalist, lived in a Palestinian refugee camp where he wrote several works of short fiction that were published in literary journals, including The Maryland Review, The Arkansas Review, and Chanteh. He has been writing and teaching English in Japan since the early 1990s, and lives with his wife and son on the island of Kyushu.
'The Pearl Diver' of Jeff Talarigo's finely observed novel christens herself Miss Fuji when she's moved to Nagashima Island Leprosarium at the age of nineteen. Instead of a lifetime of pearl diving, she finds herself handed a lifetime of caregiving. Her case of leprosy is mild enough so that she can -- she is forced to, really -- provide comfort and care for those whose cases are more debilitating. Talarigo's narrative takes Miss Fuji from the atomic bomb to the 21st century in a soulful, affecting novel of acceptance and denial.
In his novel The Pearl Diver (2004), Jeff Talarigo combines the tradition of diving for pearls off the coast of Japan together with the less exotic practice of exiling Japanese citizens who become inflicted with the disease of leprosy. Japan has a long history of forcing people to abandon family members who become leprosy victims, reacting to the disease as if it were a source of shame. Such is the case for the protagonist in Talarigo’s novel, who at nineteen years old notices two sores on her body and soon recognizes them as the beginning stages of leprosy. She is a pearl diver and loves the freedom that this occupation offers her. That freedom is soon taken away as she is forced to live on the island of Nagashima in a colony of lepers.