Kate Walbert is an extraordinary author. She has a way with words, both lyrical and seductive. If she wrote the telephone book, I know that it would be one of the most beautiful books ever written. This is my third novel by Walbert, and each time she amazes me again with the poetry and imagery with which she imbues every story.
Like her other novels I've read, A Short History of Women
and Where She Went
, The Gardens of Kyoto
weaves stories within stories. It is ostensibly a coming-of-age tale during and following the second world war. Ellen is a young girl, growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, in love with her cousin Randall, whom we learn in the first sentence was killed on Iwo Jima. The rest of the book moves back and forth in time, mingling their tragic story with that of Ruby and Sterling, Daphne and Gideon, Ellen and John.
The narrative is written in stream of consciousness, jumping from one memory to another as she narrates her history to a person identified only at the the end of the novel. The whole novel moves at a slow pace, there is no rush of action or emotion, no crescendo, and yet it is perfect in this. It is not a story that would lend itself well to a huge reveal or adventure. And this is exactly what I love about it. It is a novel that you read simply for the joy of a beautifully written word.