The Gardens of Kyoto by Kate Walbert
A Novel

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Synopsis

Exceeding the promise of her New York Times Notable Book debut, Kate Walbert brings her prizewinning "painter's eye and poet's voice" (The Hartford Courant) to 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 unravel.
The narrative moves back and forth between Randall's death in 1945 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 mosaic.
Based on a Pushcart and O. Henry Prize-winning story, this masterful first novel establishes Walbert as a writer of astonishing elegance and power.
 

About Kate Walbert

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Kate Walbert was born in New York City and raised in Georgia, Texas, Japan, and Pennsylvania, among other places. She is the author of A Short History of Women, chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2009 and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Our Kind, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2004; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the 2002 Connecticut Book Award in Fiction in 2002; and Where She Went, a collection of linked stories and a New York Times Notable Book. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fiction fellowship, a Connecticut Commission on the Arts fiction fellowship, and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library. Her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. From 1990 to 2005, she lectured in fiction writing at Yale University. She currently lives in New York City with her family.
 
Published May 6, 2001 by Scribner. 288 pages
Genres: History, Romance, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Gardens of Kyoto

Kirkus Reviews

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The novel's separate parts don't quite cohere formally, but the nature of their interconnection is suggested by this telling phrase from Randall's book: "Tucked within the gardens of Kyoto is a shrine to unborn children, to lost children, to children too soon dead."

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Publishers Weekly

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Even when she falls in love again, with a thoughtful young lieutenant named Henry stationed in Korea, her relationship is half make-believe: she intercepts the letters Henry writes to her friend Daphne and often finds herself picturing Henry as Randall.

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People

In this quaintly told coming-of-age novel, middle-aged narrator Ellen recounts key moments in her life to a daughter we never come to know.

Jun 18 2001 | Read Full Review of The Gardens of Kyoto: A Novel

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