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!!> Read ➶ The Gardens of Kyoto ➺ Author Kate Walbert –

The Gardens of KyotoExceeding The Promise Of Her New York Times Notable Book Debut, Kate Walbert Brings Her Prizewinning Painter S Eye And Poet S VoiceThe Hartford Courantto A Mesmerizing Story Of War, Romance, And Grief I Had A Cousin, Randall, Killed On Iwo Jima Have I Told You So Begins Kate Walbert S Beautiful And Heart Breaking Novel About A Young Woman, Ellen, Coming Of Age In The Long Shadow Of World War II Forty Years Later She Relates The Events Of This Period, Beginning With The Death Of Her Favorite Cousin, Randall, With Whom She Had Shared Easter Sundays, Secrets, And, Perhaps, Love In An Isolated, Aging Maryland Farmhouse That Once Was A Stop On The Underground Railroad, Randall Had Grown Up Among Ghosts His Father, Sterling, Present Only In Body His Mother, Dead At A Young Age And The Apparitions Of A Slave Family When Ellen Receives A Package After Randall S Death, Containing His Diary And A Book Called The Gardens Of Kyoto, Her Bond To Him Is Cemented, And The Mysteries Of His Short Life Start To UnravelThe Narrative Moves Back And Forth Between Randall S Death In And The Autumn Six Years Later, When Ellen Meets Lieutenant Henry Rock At A College Football Game On The Eve Of His Departure For Korea But It Soon Becomes Apparent That Ellen S Memory May Be Distorting Reality, Altered As It Is By A Mix Of Imagination And Disappointment, And That The Truth About Randall And Henry And Others May Be Hidden With Lyrical, Seductive Prose, Walbert Spins Several Parallel Stories Of The Emotional Damage Done By War Like The Mysterious Arrangements Of The Intricate Sand, Rock, And Gravel Gardens Of Kyoto, They Gracefully Assemble Into A Single, Rich MosaicBased On A Pushcart And O Henry Prize Winning Story, This Masterful First Novel Establishes Walbert As A Writer Of Astonishing Elegance And Power

!!> Read ➶ The Gardens of Kyoto ➺ Author Kate Walbert –
  • Paperback
  • 288 pages
  • The Gardens of Kyoto
  • Kate Walbert
  • English
  • 26 December 2017
  • 9781860499333

    10 thoughts on “!!> Read ➶ The Gardens of Kyoto ➺ Author Kate Walbert –

  1. says:

    One might think that a book titled The Gardens of Kyoto would be set in Japan, but such is not the case with Kate Walbert s hauntingly beautiful debut novel Instead, this lovely book wends its way from a brick mansion in Balti, Maryland to a hotel on Paris Rive Gauche, to a military hospital on Long Island, to a women s college in suburban Philadelphia Along the way, it makes stops to reveal hidden characters to the reader, fascinating people all, but people whose lives, at least in relation to the book s narrator s, are ephemeral, people whose lives blur through grief or tragedy or fantasy, people who may or may not be real to anyone but our narrator, people who may not be real even to themselves The Gardens of Kyoto begins with a deceptively simple sentence I had a cousin, Randall, killed on Iwo Jima Have I told you The book, however, is complicated, structurally sophisticated, and ephemeral The gardens in the title are a reference to Kyoto s famous Ryoan ji Zen gardens, probably constructed in the late 15th century, and consisting of an arrangement of fifteen rocks on raked, white pebbles, situated so that only fourteen are visible at any one time, from any vantage point In Buddhism, fifteen designates enlightenment, and presumably, one would have to be enlightened in order to see the fifteenth rock Seeing it from the air does not count in the 15th century, they could not conceive of such a thing as seeing from the air As Randall, the owner of the book, The Gardens of Kyoto, puts it, the gardens were meant to be viewed from a distance, their fragments in relation Walbert has chosen to tell her story within a frame, which leaves her free to roam the past as she chooses, and create a book in which all is never exactly what it seems The book s narrator, Ellen, the youngest of three sisters, is a middle aged English teacher when she utters that simple opening line, though we don t learn that fact until near the book s end As a young teenager, she was a shy, sensitive, dreamy girl who lived for her annual Easter visits to her cousin, Randall in Maryland.Randall is a bookish and intellectually curious young man, a few years older than Ellen, and like Ellen, sensitive and quiet He lives with his father, an elderly, retired judge, who spends his days closeted in his library, researching a biography of Jonathan Edwards Randall is obsessed with memories of his deceased mother, and he enjoys showing Ellen secret rooms in his father s house that were used to smuggle slaves to the North via the Underground Railroad The young impressionable Ellen becomes totally infatuated with Randall, and according to her, their relationship is cemented by the fact that both of them have bright red hair Ellen, in fact, becomes so taken with Randall that her brief association with her beloved cousin will color every relationship she has throughout the rest of her life.We know, of course, that Randall is eventually sent to fight in WWII and that he doesn t survive the war This is not a spoiler as mentioned above, it s revealed in the first sentence of the book In fact, one of the book s early set pieces takes place in a diner in which Ellen is waiting with Randall and several other soldiers for a train that will take many of them away from their loved ones forever.As she waits, Ellen thinks Too soon the feel of leaving descended upon the place Soldiers scraped back their chairs, stood in line to pay their checks Everyone had the same train to catch.After learning of Randall s presumed death on Iwo Jima his body is never found , his father sends Ellen a package of Randall s treasures that contains his Randall s diary as well as his book, The Gardens of Kyoto It is through Randall s diary and his beloved book about Japan s famous gardens that Ellen and the reader are able to piece together the history of Randall s short life, and in so doing, learn about Ellen s Slowly, Randall takes on another role in Ellen s life not cousin or friend, but lover real or imagined but without a doubt, the single most important relationship Ellen will ever have.As Ellen details her relationship with Randall for her own daughter, the narrative is colored with both grief and loss We know how much Randall meant to Ellen we ve already come to like him ourselves and we know he is one of the soldiers who will not return Ellen doesn t deny this fact, even to herself Sometimes, when I think about it, I see the two of us there, Randall and me, from a different perspective, as if I were Mother walking through the door to call us for supper One will never grow old, never age One will never plant tomatoes, drive automobiles, go to dances One will never drink too much and sit alone, wishing, in the dark.However, as she remembers her last conversation with Randall, it might have been his smile that affected Ellen most of all Have I told you his was a beautiful smile Not the smile of a cynic, nor the easy, hungry smile of boys his age, whose smiles that aim to get them somewhere, are a commodity in exchange for God knows what No His was completely without intent an accident of a smile The kind of smile that would have surprised him if he could have seen it for himself But he was too young to know his own extraordinariness.As Ellen continues to relate her story, we learn how she and others like her felt about coming of age in the 1950s Certain things, taken for granted or not taken for granted, but acknowledged as not to be swept under the figurative rug today, were simply not tolerated in the era immediately following WWII One was rebellion, something one of Ellen s sisters displays during an otherwise normal and loving Thanksgiving Day dinner Domestic abuse was another, along with the other things one preferred not to deal with Unwed pregnancies were taboo, as was suicide and the madness to which some of the soldiers in WWII and Korea were driven The emotional devastation of war is a constant theme running through The Gardens of Kyoto, and it affects Randall s father, Sterling, Ellen s sister, Rita and her husband, Roger, Ellen, herself, and Lt Henry Rock, a handsome young man who falls in love with the already attached Daphne, one of Ellen s friends, and with whom Ellen, herself falls instantly in love Of the emotionally damaged war veterans, Ellen says They pretended to be fine, but if you looked you d see that they were not fine at all We weren t supposed to look We were supposed to welcome them home, pretending, as they pretended.These then vanishing women, endangered children, and men permanently damaged by war make up the novel s recurring motifs, and one might assume that a book detailing so much tragedy and violence would become weighty and perhaps even melodramatic Walberg, however, writes such restrained prose, with such a light touch that for the most part, the book remains delicate and lyrical, and because of its restraint, all the chilling The Gardens of Kyoto is a rich, full book, with wonderfully developed, imperfect characters and beautifully developed themes Is it perfect No, it s not At times, Walbert relies too much on epistolary gimmicks to advance her plot than she does on her own considerable powers as a writer Besides the diary and book that are given to Ellen by Sterling, Randall s father, there s the note from glamorous Aunt Ruby to Randall that reveals a long buried family secret there s the letter that Randall steals from a locked box in his father s desk there are the invented letters from his sweetheart the lieutenant reads out loud in the evening to try to boost the morale of his men and then there are the bloodstained letters culled from the corpses in the trenches only letters free from stains were sent on to the families of deceased soldiers to minimize the families pain And in a book that s remarkable for its lovely nuanced understatement, Ellen s deliberate staining of Henry s letters with her own blood is a bit too much And given the fact that the title of the book is the name of a Japanese rock garden, it s a little heavy handed that Henry s surname just happens to be Rock Fortunately, these minor jarring notes don t harm the beauty or the power of this book I m going to guess that some readers will even like them, and even those who don t will be willing to forgive.In setting down her story, Ellen blurs the lines of fantasy and reality She remembers the first time she kisses Randall, and that blurs into the first time she kisses Henry Eventually, the reader has to question which events in the book really happened and which are only products of Ellen s wishful thinking.Eventually, the reader comes to question whether or not objective truth even exists with regard to human relationships, something Ellen seems to understand Near the end of the book, Ellen admits her admiration for Shakespeare s Iago, saying, I am not what I am We are none of us who we are The writing in The Gardens of Kyoto is gorgeous Except for the few instances of the overuse of epistolary devices mentioned above, this is a beautiful and beautifully understated book The prose is poetic and lyrical the sentences are, for the most part, long, detailed, and almost as multilayered as the book It was a joy to read this book for the prose alone And though the structure and themes are heavy and complicated, the book never feels overwrought Instead, it has an airy, weightless quality that I very much admired.In the end, The Gardens of Kyoto, while taking place primarily in the US and revolving around American characters, expresses a profoundly Japanese view that truth, like the gardens of Ryoan ji, is subjective and depends solely on the viewer s vantage point.I thought this was an extraordinary book extraordinary in its finely drawn characters, in the scope of its plot and theme, and in the understatement and beauty of its poetic prose.It s far too little known and read.4.5 5Recommended Yes, to those who love highly literary fiction Its themes are lofty and its structure is complicated This isn t a feel good book, nor is it a book to simply wile away the hours It is, however, a book that will stay with the reader, not only long after the last page is turned, but probably forever Read my book reviews and tips for writers at

  2. says:

    How did I not know about this little gem The Gardens of Kyoto is an eloquent book and in important ways, a ghost story of those who have touched the lives of those who are left behind.The title alludes to a book, gifted to a young Ellen by her cousin and presumed love interest Randall, who, we quickly learn, was killed in the war The first sentences I had a cousin, Randall, killed in Iwo Jima Have I told you The gardens are unlike anything that Ellen can imagine There is a garden in Kyoto meant to be viewed at night in shadows The point is, the entire thing the pathways, the fountains, the lakes, the cherry trees is an illusion colorless shadows without scent cast by large paper cutouts In truth, though, illusions and reality merge Kyoto, once on the short list in place of Hiroshima, survives and so does Ellen But in the meantime, its magic looms large in the imagination the look, the shape, the story of the gardens varying, depending on who is doing the viewing.The ghosts that inhabit Ellen s life are Randall, Ellen s first love and mentor his mother, who died early in his life, leaving him with his elderly father, and the house they inhabited, once an important depot for the Underground Railroad There s Ellen s adult lover, Henry Rock, driven mad by the war and his role in it as an understated hero.And then there are the ghosts that are banished from conversation in the 1950s unwed pregnancies, illicit liaisons, emotionally and mentally damaged veterans, domestic abuse, lack of empowerment experienced by women We are not used to display, Ellen explains, this bare truth Indeed, as the underbelly of the 1950s are slowly revealed, the effect becomes jarring.To add to the merging of illusion and reality, key plot points rely on letters the letters sent by Henry to Daphne, Ellen s friend, that wind up in Ellen s hands the false letters that Henry himself writes when Daphne doesn t answer him the letter from Randall s aunt that is the key to a dark family secret the bloodstained letters used by a professor horticulturist who advocates for the salvation of Kyoto And, of course, the Gardens of Kyoto itself, the book that illuminates a way of thinking for an impressionable young girl.The Gardens of Kyoto is a luminous book, somewhat elusive, enormously powerful, and filled with beauty and truths There is real power in these words.

  3. says:

    So so bad I had this book in my possession for over a year and was always so intrigued by it for some reason, then when I finally read it it was just supremely disappointing I don t even remember what the story or point of the book was at all My mind would wander after every paragraph and it was such a struggle to finish Looking back, I m surprised I actually made it all the way through.

  4. says:

    I really did not understand this one at all Large portions of the plot are left hanging and never resolved Characters do not ring true, whole thing seemed very phony.

  5. says:

    Gauzy and aimless, a young woman s ill fated love told in fragments that reassemble into what I don t know The story is shaped by unexpected pairings the romantic love of two awkward cousins, the back story of Japanese gardens and slave escapes, the untold truths of war wounded and unwed mothers Here it all seems a mash And yet the prose is mesmerizing.

  6. says:

    This was a hauntingly beautiful book that dealt with many issues related to war and the devastating effect it had on the life of the main character as well as those within her family circle Confusing at times, however, the writing was elegant This was not a book one could read quickly for there is a need in its telling to savor and read between lines and prose The main character, Ellen, falls in love with her cousin a young man who is destined to die on Iwo Jima Her love for Randell colors everything that Ellen does and how she views the men in her life The family relationships and friends that Ellen has seem so vulnerable especially when seen in the light of the effects that World War 2 had on this generation It is a sad book, one that you know from the beginning when the author immediately tells of Randell s death, will not turn into a story of happiness and joy More to the point, this is a story of survival sometimes minimally, but one that awakens a mind to the concept that war and its aftermath is a hell here on earth that often times the survivors can t escape from It also made me view, as I have gotten older, what my father went through and how his behavior towards us, his family, was certainly colored and overshadowed by his experience in that war I am quite glad I read this novel even if truthfully, at times, I felt a bit in the dark as to the veracity of some of Ellen s experiences.

  7. says:

    meh this was just fine I had the sense that the author was trying too hard to incorporate clever storytelling techniques I prefer to get so caught up in a story that I don t think about the author.

  8. says:

    I m really surprised at how many reviewers thought this book was boring I thought it was engrossing and beautifully written I ll keep the imagery in my head for a long time.

  9. says:

    TrustThis is one of those extraordinary novels where, from the very first page, you find yourself just trusting the author Never for a moment did I doubt I was reading anything less than a five star book, but its quality was whispered rather than shouted It has no obviously heroic characters or striking locations it barely has a story if it deals in great themes, they are left for the reader to discover, without fanfare Even the Kyoto gardens of the title are invoked only as an image the main action barely leaves the Philadelphia area and the rural Eastern Shore of Maryland I could not even say how the various parts of the novel fit together, yet fit they do You read as an act of discovery, simply trusting that the pattern will be revealed Meanwhile, though, the characters are nuanced and real, the emotion touching in its understatement, and the evocation of period is perfect and that is all that matters I had a cousin, Randall, killed on Iwo Jima Have I told you Ellen, the narrator, opens the book with these words She would see Randall whenever her family visited their Maryland farm, a former stop on the Underground Railroad To his poetic soul, the former fugitives are still a vital presence and their ghosts occupy the house He and Ellen become teenage soulmates, than half in love by the time he is shipped off to war His loss affects her than she knows Many years later, when she is in college, Ellen meets another soldier about to go to war, this time to Korea Although he originally had eyes only for another girl, when he reenters Ellen s life, everything will have changed Death in battle is not the only tragedy of war.At one point, Ellen makes a cryptic reference to Rupert Brooke s elegiac 1915 sonnet, The Soldier If I should die, think only this of meThat there s some corner of a foreign fieldThat is for ever England, England s own. Walbert s whole novel is a kind of elegy, set not on the battlefields but in ordinary corners back home It is no less poignant that these are simple losses felt by people who are young and about to embark on their lives Indeed, at a time when the whole country was making a fresh start on life.Trust implies truth, but not necessarily at every stage along the way Ellen is not a simple narrator, and only in sum is she a reliable one The novel has two main time periods, the mid forties and mid fifties Ellen keeps going back and forth between them, throwing in little surprises at each turn, often contradicting what she had implied before The first of the five parts, for example, ends with what appears to be a bombshell, but Ellen will later reveal that she and Randall both knew about this much earlier In another section, the death of another family member will be reported as established fact, and you thumb back wondering if you have missed something But no, she will tell you the details in her own good time.Meanwhile, there are a number of quite short chapters that appear to have nothing directly to do with Ellen, Randall, or Henry Scenes, for instance, involving a horticulturist who kept himself sane in WW1 by drawing the flora of Northern France A teacher on Iwo Jima who kept his class safe by hiding in a cave filled with blue butterflies Or the gardens of Kyoto, sacred spaces with a healing purpose If I was briefly disappointed that Walbert never takes us there in person, I began to yearn for these oases of calm as the gentle force that holds the story together One of these, Koto In, is a garden that you approach down a long avenue of trees shaped so that their shadows spell poems on the path Poems that are incomplete by the time the traveler reaches the single arch through which the garden may be seen But this window is impossible to pry open, the gardens left as much to the imagination as the endings of the Koto In poems that are left unfinished, the ones interrupted by a sudden change of weather. Oblique enigmatic wonderful.

  10. says:

    This is a little puzzle box of a book At first we don t even know who s narrating, but we gradually begin to understand that this is a mother telling the story of her life to her daughter As often happens with these long monologues we hear from older relatives, the narrative isn t linear at all, and the stories that seem so normal and placid on the surface eventually reveal their true emotion and gravity Besides admiring the crystalline nature of the prose, I was especially intrigued when I realized that the narrator, Ellen, is exactly the same age as my mother Just like my mother, a fellow member of the silent generation, Ellen struggles with expressing herself and seems to feel she must hold her emotions at arm s length This book is exactly like the kinds of stories my mother used to tell me, and only now after her death have I come to learn some of the deep truths behind the stories Walbert has gotten it exactly right.

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