The Heat of the Sun by David Rain
When I saw the brief description of this book on my list of possible reviews, my first thought was “OH, YES!!” Love Puccini, love operatic drama and really really love Madame Butterfly! The Heat of the Sun is a continuation of the tragic story set in Nagasaki of Cio-Cio-San (pronounced Cho-Cho and known as Madame Butterfly), doomed Japanese “bride” of American Navy Lt. B. F. Pinkerton, who marries him in all good faith, is abandoned by him and in the end gives up their child to Pinkerton and his legal American wife, Kate, before killing herself.
Rain’s book is the story of what happens to that child who, though legally named for his father, is forever after called “Trouble,” a name given to him by his mother, Madame Butterfly. I watched a DVD of Puccini’s opera before beginning this book just for the pleasure of it, but this tale can be read without doing that, even if you are unfamiliar with the opera since that story line is eventually reprised in the book.
The characters, in addition to Trouble, are also taken from the opera. The narrator is Woodley Sharpless, the infant son of the American Consul in Japan when Lt. Pinkerton took Trouble from Cho-Cho. Kate is also here, as is Prince Yamadori who loved Cho-Cho and forever after feels great enmity toward the Pinkertons.
We first meet charismatic Trouble at a prep school where he forms a life-long bond with Woodley Sharpless when they are both adolescents. We follow him to a bohemian life in Greenwich Village in the 20s where he eventually renounces his family allegiance to the Pinkertons on finding out from Prince Yamadori the true story of his birth.
From there, we see him in Japan as theassistant to the Prince. Cut then to World War II where Trouble is an assistant to his father, a U.S. Senator, and they are both in Los Alamos as observers of the devastating result of the Manhattan Project. The end of Trouble’s story includes traitorous betrayals and high drama. Throughout it all, Sharpless is the chronicler of these events.
While some of the time jumps and changes in Trouble’s feelings about Japan, his birth, and his father and Kate can seem occasionally bewildering at the beginning of each new chapter, Rain does eventually fill in the back story of how these changes occurred before that chapter closes. In addition, I did feel Rain included an important but overly long segment that detailed the internment of a friend of Sharpless by the Japanese.
However, by the end of the book, I found myself so moved that I consider The Heat of the Sun a truly inventive tour de force…despite its very few flaws that I freely dismiss. The final dénouement was a crescendo of great emotion, inevitable tragedy, pathos, and some degree of redemption. And is that not what great operatic drama is all about?
BRAVO, David Rain!
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