In Blue Thread, Miriam goes to a Halloween party dressed as Marie Antoinette. Her mother, Lillian Josefsohn, gives her a pearl necklace to wear. Later,

Mama came to the front hall. She insisted that Mrs. Steinbacher’s chauffeur drive Charity and me to the railroad depot. Sure enough, a few minutes later the Packard was once again in front of our house. I feared for a moment that Mama would come with us, but she didn’t. Instead, she gave me the pearl necklace I’d worn as Marie Antoinette.

This pearl necklace will show up about fifty years later in a companion novel to Blue Thread. More about that later. For now, let’s focus on those pearls.

The first cultured pearls were developed in about 1916, and Blue Thread takes place in 1912. Clearly Mama’s pearls were wrested from the sea, and, in my story, most likely by the Ama, Japanese women divers.

Some say that the tradition of women divers in Japan goes back 3,000 years. Some say 2,000 years. The first written record of the Ama is found on a scroll from 927 CE–so nearly a thousand years before Blue Thread.

For centuries, these women dove for food–abalone and other shellfish. Pearls were an added bonus and, it turns out, one highly prized by many cultures. When they dove, the Ama wore very little, then later white cloth (thought to deter shark attack), and now wet suits. This photo–one of the few I could find that didn’t expose buttocks or breasts–is probably from the 1940s and is found in the archival material of anthropologist John W. Bennett at Oregon State University. Few Ama are left to carry on the tradition, but there are many pearl necklaces like Mama’s to attest to Ama strength and stamina.

 

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