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Customer Review

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book so good it deserves whatever publicity it gets!, April 22, 2001
This review is from: The Gardens of Kyoto: A Novel (Hardcover)
Every once in a while, a book comes along that is so stirring in its message and so elegant in its composition that you cannot wait to tell everyone you know about it. This is one of those books. Like the real gardens of Kyoto, it is quiet, subtle, and cerebral. At the same time, it is immensely powerful in effect, full of dramatic contrasts which illuminate the bedrock of life itself. The mood is contemplative and introspective, and the reader ultimately gains new insights into the nature of human relationships.

The main character, Ellen, is a young girl during the early 1940's, fascinated by her cousin Randall, a slight, sensitive boy, a few years older, that she sees only once or twice a year. Randall expands Ellen's view of the world, showing her secret rooms in his house and inviting her to share some of his intellectual curiosity about the Underground Railroad which once stopped there. The voices of these young people, each alone in many ways, speak directly to the reader and involve him/her in both the action and the values of the times. Ellen shares Randall's fear as he leaves for the World War II, where, we have discovered in the opening sentence, he is killed on Iwo Jima. He leaves Ellen a box of "treasures," including his diary and his copy of The Gardens of Kyoto, a book given to him by his mother. As the diary and book reveal Randall's family history, we also learn about Ellen's family, the relationships of the parents, their relationships with each other, Ellen's relationships with each of them, and her relationship with the father of the child to whom she is leaving the written record which constitutes this novel.

The plot is full and rich with many overlaps of time and detail as the narrative shifts from pre-World War II to Korea. The main characters are fully developed, understandable people trying to adapt to their changing world the best way they can, some more successfully than others. However fascinating the story is (and it is totally captivating), Walbert's underlying themes and their development are even more fascinating (or were to me). She illustrates, among other things, that as in Kyoto's gardens, our views of "truth" are limited by our vantage points, that we sometimes confuse shadow with reality, and that there is a universal desire among all men to find peace and serenity. This is a remarkable novel, satisfying on every level, a total pleasure to read, with insights into so many aspects of life that you will be thinking about it long after you have finished reading. Mary Whipple
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 29, 2014 8:26:28 PM PDT
This has just been recommended to me, Mary. I have read it, reviewed it, and totally share the joyous wonder you express here! Roger.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 2, 2014 2:26:29 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 2, 2014 2:41:39 PM PDT]

Posted on Oct 2, 2014 2:45:27 PM PDT
Mary Whipple says:
Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. I was hoping that it would attract more publicity than it did, but it's good to know that people are still reading and enjoying this special book. Best, Mary
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