The Gardens Of Kyoto
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The Gardens Of Kyoto

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  648 ratings  ·  107 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 1st 2002 by Virago (first published 2001)
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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 Baltimore, 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 rel...more
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 e...more
Jul 09, 2007 Cassandra rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
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.
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.
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.
Mar 08, 2008 Gloria rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Gloria by: Mary Clare
Okay, I'm on spring break. Enough with the academic texts!

Ach.... second day, and I think I'm hitting a wall, similar to one that I faced when I was reading _The Great Fire_, which I *did* think was a great book, but also had a hard time (at certain points) maintaining concentration? engagement?

Finished last night. It is beautifully written, and the themes of love, loss and women's restricted roles were beautifully paralleled in the writing style. But still, for some reason, while I liked this b...more
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.
Elena (Gone Bookserk)
A Gone Bookserk Perspective

A lot of ambiguity with this book. To begin with, the title is a serious disappointment, in some places I have even read that it's 'misleading.' Whichever way you look it, it has very little effect to the book. It's supposed to reflect how the book, The Gardens of Kyoto, that Randall leaves for Ellen affects her whole life's perspective and how she perceives the world after learning about it. Contrary to that, the novel revolves so much around Ellen's life, and very l...more
Jul 02, 2009 Sandy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sandy by: found in my niece's give-away pile, silly girl!
This is a beautifully written, poignant book filled with frank, but excruciating, sadness and all the pain and misery of war: lost possibilities, dead loved ones, damaged boys, mourning fathers, a society which, at the time, hid it all behind a smiling demeanor but kidded no one - at least not this girl. It is the story of a girl whose life is completely framed by the death of her cousin at Iwo Jima. It is only loosely about Kyoto, but the part that is is... well, unexplainably gratifying, parti...more
Shvaugn Craig
couldn't manage to get through it all. which is a shame. it was beautifully written but the characters didn't hold enough appeal to keep me reading. and in the end you have to ask what's the point.
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.
I wanted to shake this book several times before I finished it. It is beautifully written and frustrating and incredibly irritating. The book seemed to me (I know my high school English teacher would rap me over the knuckles for this sentence construction!)- it seemed to me to be about cowardice and indecision and lack of...spine. Without giving away any plot, I would love to know if anyone out there agrees with me. Ellen is a watcher, not a doer. She reacts instead of acting. Damn, I wanted to...more
There were things I liked a lot about this book. There is no denying that the author is gifted with her use of language. I enjoyed the story, if only for its prose. The main character, Ellen, tells her story in the first person. As her tale unwinds, you learn how frequently in her life she does not say what she thinks, she does not do what she wishes. Soon, you are reading a tale about a life not lived -- a fate determined by fear, reticence, complacency, resignation. How different might her lif...more
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 du...more
Ally Armistead
The title of this novel drew me to it instantly. I have also been fascinated by the gardens of Kyoto, and I was particularly intrigued by Walbert's employment of the gardens in a novel that takes place everywhere but Japan.

"Kyoto" begins compellingly enough, as our narrator asks us directly whether she's told us about her cousin who died in Iwo Jima. Of course, it takes us until the end of the novel to realize that she is actually speaking to her daughter (not us) which becomes a bit confusing...more
It's one of those books where I'd give this a 3.5 star rating. What I loved about this book:

1) Told from an educated woman's perspective on love, loss, friendship, and family during the WW2/Post War era. It was a time where women's roles were pretty much doomed to taking care of their husbands, especially if they were war vets. Domestic violence was mentioned as one of the peripheral themes. Mental health issues were explored as well what would've been labeled obviously nowadays as PTSD.

“Kate Walbert’s fine, delicate prose captures voices that we don’t hear much anymore…The Gardens of Kyoto is a ghost story, a mystery, a love story.” – Amy Bloom

I read about The Gardens of Kyoto by Kate Walbert on a ‘Top Ten’ list and chose it for my book club a few 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,...more
Steven Langdon
"The Gardens of Kyoto" is a superb and subtle novel that uses the symbol of complex gardens in Kyoto, that were originally to be included in the atomic bomb targets, to explore the manifold dimensions of Ellen's unfolding love for her cousin Randall. Randall dies on Iwo Jima, as the first lines of this book tell us, and Ellen's life is reshaped by that loss. A haunting antiwar composition, this book is also an exploration of the narrow life choices of American women in the post World War Two era...more
At one point, Ellen, the narrator of "The Gardens of Kyoto", imagines Japanese women climbing stone stairs on their knees to a shrine for their lost and unborn children. Jizo is not named as the god of the shrine, but his spirit infuses not only this scene but all the unmoored crossroads, the sorrow and the dark entanglements.

Ellen begins by speaking of her cousin, killed at Iwo Jima: "I did not know him well." Already we feel that this is less than the truth.

Ghosts of love, of wars and cruelty;...more
This is a delicate story of a young woman coming to terms with the loss of her cousin, her sister, and her lover. It’s told by going back and forth in time, so the portraits are not completely clear until the end of the story. It’s all told from the first-person point of view of the protagonist Ellen (whose name we don’t get until halfway through the novel). It’s a lovely, heart-touching story, filled with the events of a life that bring out emotions, especially those connected to war. Of centra...more
Megan Stolz
This is a beautifully written book -- Kate Walbert is definitely a craftswoman. I believe this is one of her first novels after establishing herself as a story story writer and that influence comes out. There are several story lines that are woven together to create an entire story. The back of the book says that the story explores women's roles, and I think that's true, but I think that's a little limiting of all of the issues bubbling in this story. It explores the connections between times in...more
This is a beautifully written book about loneliness and relationships that exist primarily in one's own mind, and are not so well grounded in reality. It manages to celebrate the richness of those relationships through the richness of the description, and the pain that comes from wanting to form connections and failing (or rather, connecting in your own imagination frequently and occasionally for a few seconds with the person the relationship is with). So, it is a sweet, sad book, but a very qui...more
I really disliked Ellen so that hampered my enjoyment of this book. Perhaps it's just me but I only found Ellen to be meek and dull. This can be endearing to an extent but there have to be redeeming qualities and this character didn't have any. I couldn't even remember her name through most of it and whenever someone brought up the name Ellen I was fairly confused until the last 60 pages or so. I don't feel like I really learned anything about her and maybe that wasn't supposed to be the point h...more
Interesting to see a book based on a piece of history few know-that Kyoto was a target for the bomb but spared for its religious value. I found this book better than her other novel A Short History of Women but still felt left empty by the end. I felt she tried to tackle too many issues-PTSD, unwed pregnancy, abortion, incest, etc. Even through the story was historically true to its time period I felt it was overdone. How many women were getting knocked up in 1952 out of wedlock? This book seeme...more
Beautiful, ephemeral images of our heroine's experience with life and love. Stories of her relationships with her sisters, her cousin (2nd cousin? Quite a bit of incestuous sentiments there that make you hope that it's 2nd cousin, at least), her friends, and her 'husband.' The whole novel is comprised of little snapshots of time, not in any sort of chronological order. The unveiling of thoughts/feelings/events in such a way make the characters yields an unbelievable effect of somehow making the...more
A intriguing book. As soon as I finished I wanted to read again. The story is as subtle as the Gardens of Kyoto. On is described as a garden you cannot enter but only view from the perimeter. Another is only to be viewed after dark so there is no color, only subtle shape and shading. Yet another as hidden behind trees cut in the shapes of Japanese characters along a long hall that you walk down to a window where you will be able to see the garden, but when you arrive at the window is it permanen...more
I read this in the worst way possible, with starts and stops, and other higher priority books in between, not sure why. I did like it, and the writing was good. But it goes back and forth in time, and if you don't read it consistently, as I didn't, it was very confusing. It probably wouldn't be otherwise. I forgot who characters were, and things like that. Oh well. But that is not a reflection on the prose or the style. A woman is telling her child about her life growing up when her cousin was k...more
Beautifully written, deeply developed and unique plot deployment. Sweet read.
I found the story to be confusing at times... I felt it could have been better developed. I always knew who the narrator was, but wasn't completely sure who the "father" was. I like the first pat of the book about her cousin the best.
Lynne Brookfield
I found the writing in The Gardens of Kyoto by Kate Walbert hauntingly lyrical. It was pure joy reading her prose. I think I like her writing more than the story itself, although I found that powerful, as well. The Gardens of Kyoto are used as a metaphor for how lives interconnect and relate to one another, forming a pattern, with the reader filling in the "empty" spaces, as around stones in a Japanese garden. The novel deals with how the Second World War and the Korean War affect the lives of w...more
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“I had a cousin, Randall, killed on Iwo Jima. Have I told you?

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.”
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