Black Dragonfly

Written by Jean Pasley
Review by J. Lynn Else

Using the main character’s own words extracted from letters, essays, and books, Pasley vividly recounts the life of wandering writer Lafcadio Hearn. At age four, he is orphaned by his Greek mother, followed by his Irish father, and left with a stern aunt. Hearn never found acceptance or belonging growing up. He travels to the United States, the West Indies, and eventually to Japan as a newspaper correspondent. While there, he discovers more than just a story: he also finds hope that perhaps he’s finally found a home.

Pasley explores the beauty of late 19th-century Japanese culture with elegant brushstrokes. Utilizing Hearn’s curiosity and sense of wonder, the author examines Japanese ideologies. Hearn struggles to look beyond his Western mindset in order to reconcile vastly different concepts of living. While attending his class on Greek and English literature, the Japanese students are perplexed. They find it incomprehensible to read about characters who are motivated by passion and self-preservation instead of by family and duty.

The narrative isn’t always linear as Hearn reflects back on his life while his viewpoints change. However, the different time points flow smoothly from one moment to the next. Hearn is not always the most likeable person, but the influence of those around him bring about his growth. The interactions with his wife are highlights of the novel. She shares Japanese stories and explains why her culture sees things as they do with her husband. As a daughter of a fallen samurai clan, the contrast between her life and his (particularly when it comes to family) is compellingly explored. Hearn’s viewpoints are shaken up in such a way that perhaps he can find peace. The landscape Pasley recreates is picturesque and immersive. Overall, Lafcadio Hearn’s journey into a disappearing culture is both enlightening and heartfelt. Recommended.