I thought it was interesting and a bit eerie that this book came in the mail the same day that the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan. Although I was already curious about the book since it is the continuation of Madame Butterfly (which I admit, I've never seen), I think the timing made it more interesting. Especially since it would be at a time when there was not so much earthly destruction. Therefore, I admit the recent events may have colored my reading of this story.
You do not have to have read or seen Madame Butterfly to read this book. The author supplies a brief synopsis of the opera so you are completely caught up in Benji's story from the beginning. And although it is mostly Benji's story, there is a change of POV in the book where you also get an insight into Mr. and Mrs. Pinkerton as well as some of the other minor players in this story. I should say that the changing POV is not smooth, but I feel it was necessary. That way the Pinkertons did not become one-dimensional villains in the story.
Benji is a sweet little boy. Witnessing his mother's suicide and then taken to a strange land with people he never met before. He knows that Mr. Pinkerton is his papa, but the man and the woman refuses to acknowledge this fact. While growing up, Benji is stripped of his Japanese heritage. As he grows he becomes more obsessed with keeping what little he remembers about Japan in an effort to cling to something of his mother. His parents, the Pinkertons, were not totally sympathetic to Benji's plight yet they are not totally ignorant of it either. However, they seem more interested in their selves and what others would think. This is what fosters their victim mentality. The author does not make the Pinkertons total monsters; within their POV, you see people who are doing the best that they know how and do honestly care for Benji's well being. They just can't seem to get past wanting to be the victim in this little play. This interferes with Benji's upbringing as well as their own satisfaction with life.
Benji's life is not completely horrid, he does find several people willing to go out of their way to help him. In fact, he is quite lucky in this respect. He finds a bit of hardship on his road back to Japan, but really, it was very minor for someone of mixed race, especially in the late 1800s/ early 1900s. By the end Benji has made a new life for himself and there is a huge twist even I did not see coming (now you know I'm not going to tell what that was... *evil laugh).
I give this story 4 stars. My biggest criticism is that the cultural corrections to the opera by the author were made at the end of the book all at once and I would have loved to see it more interspersed within the story much earlier. Perhaps in the "second act" when Benji was learning about the Japanese culture. That way the ending wouldn't have seemed as rushed as it appeared to me. However, I did enjoy this unique tale and found it to be an interesting journey.