I read about The Gardens of Kyoto by Kate Walbert on a ‘Top Ten’ list and chose it for my book club a couple years ago. Many of the members of my book club weren’t enamored with the book, but I was smitten from the book’s opening line: “I had a cousin, Randall, killed in Iwo Jima.”
The story seems simple enough. The novel’s narrator, Ellen, comes of age around the time of World War II and recalls her life and her relationship with Randall some forty years later. Her story makes for compelling reading. But it isn’t just Ellen’s story to tell- she inherits Randall’s diary and a book called ‘The Gardens of Kyoto’ and we get a glimpse of several other lives.
Walbert’s book is marked by gorgeous prose and a fully realized sense of place. I found the book wholly satisfying, heartbreaking and emotionally resonant.