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The Gardens Of Kyoto

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  904 Ratings  ·  149 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 t
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
Jan 13, 2015 Jill rated it it was amazing
How did I not know about this little gem? The Gardens of Kyoto is an eloquent book and in important ways, a ghost story of those who have touched the lives of those who are left behind.

The title alludes to a book, gifted to a young Ellen by her cousin and presumed love interest Randall, who, we quickly learn, was killed in the war. (The first sentences: I had a cousin, Randall, killed in Iwo Jima. Have I told you?”) The gardens are unlike anything that Ellen can imagine: “There is a garden in Ky
Jun 07, 2007 Cassandra rated it did not like it  ·  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.
Aug 02, 2007 Will rated it did not like it
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.
Nov 02, 2013 Marialyce rated it really liked it
Shelves: november-2013
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
Jul 07, 2009 Karen rated it liked it
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.
Sep 22, 2007 rachel rated it it was ok
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.
Roger Brunyate
Jun 09, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it it was amazing

This is one of those extraordinary novels where, from the very first page, you find yourself just trusting the author. Never for a moment did I doubt I was reading anything less than a five-star book, but its quality was whispered rather than shouted. It has no obviously heroic characters or striking locations; it barely has a story; if it deals in great themes, they are left for the reader to discover, without fanfare. Even the Kyoto gardens of the title are invoked only as an image; the m
Mar 08, 2008 Gloria rated it it was ok
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
Jan 03, 2009 Catherine rated it it was amazing
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.
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
Mar 05, 2017 Kristi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another book with lovely prose, meandering timelines, and dispassionate characters who never fully come to life. Glad to have this one off the TBR stack and on its way to a new home.
Sep 18, 2012 Sara rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 02, 2009 Sandy rated it really liked it
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
Ava Gailliot
Jan 05, 2015 Ava Gailliot rated it did not like it
I really wanted to like this novel, but it was just so ridged and painful to read.

The long winded descriptions of every detail took me out of the story and let my mind wonder on many pages. Even the main character didn't seem like a real human being, just a description of a person. Boring.
Apr 27, 2012 Sylvia rated it did not like it
Eh, the inside cover delivered more promises than the book turned out to be.
Feb 28, 2008 ANGELA rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shvaugn Craig
May 27, 2012 Shvaugn Craig rated it it was ok
Shelves: general-fiction
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.
Sonya L Moore
Mar 16, 2015 Sonya L Moore rated it it was amazing
A very dear book club friend loaned me her paperback copy of this book (thanks Margie) but I may have to replace it for her. I cannot in good conscience return it so bedraggled, a state caused by my reading and re-reading page after page, stuffing it into my purse for a doctor's appointment, in the basket in the grocery checkout line and under my arm at the post office. In other words, I could not put it down until I had gone back, just one more time, to read what the Professor said to Ruby at t ...more
Nov 09, 2016 Sandra rated it it was amazing
More than one reviewer of Kate Walbert's gorgeous novel, The Gardens of Kyoto, has referred to her "fine, delicate prose" and how it effectively conveys the characters' voices as their stories unfold. To begin, Walbert hooks the reader with her opening sentence: "I had a cousin, Randall, killed on Iwo Jima," Ellen announces.

So begins this young protagonist's heartbreaking story about her relationship with her cousin, Randall, drawing closer as they explore hidden places, which possibly sheltere
Feb 24, 2017 Cindy rated it it was ok
very existential...a bit depressing
Sep 13, 2015 Stephen rated it really liked it
Well, this was quite a surprising find. At first I felt the story was juvenile, a YA-reader for naive teens and adults who never read real books. (I do not write that to feel cruel. YA books open up the world for many people and hopefully push curiosities out into wider and deeper waters of literary arts.) By chapter 2, however, I was enchanted, grizzled, worthless me, drawn into the author's wellspring . . . Japan . . . Kyoto . . . Toji-in. These are places I've been, truly enchanting places fi ...more
Ally Armistead
Nov 15, 2011 Ally Armistead rated it liked it
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
Jun 20, 2015 Lisa rated it liked it
Though this is very well crafted and has an interesting time-shifting structure and a clever repeating motif of a book about Kyoto gardens, I had a hard time with this story, which is about the cost of war (Korean, WWII) to women and families (in the US) during a very repressed era in which there is a startling absence of communication (1940s-50s). There are three secret unwanted pregnancies caused by "troubled," absentee men, one frighteningly abused woman murdered by her husband while her fami ...more
Nov 10, 2011 CynthiaA rated it really liked it
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
Aug 12, 2013 Liz rated it liked it
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.

Feb 12, 2017 Holly rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Hunter
Shelves: 2017
Made me want to visit the gardens
Feb 02, 2011 Christie rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-reads
“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,
Steven Langdon
Jul 24, 2011 Steven Langdon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Dec 04, 2010 Kerfe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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;
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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 LA Times Book Prize; Our Kind, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2004; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the 2002 Connecti
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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.”
“Iago says, I am not what I am, and for this he is called deceitful, a villain. Odd, isn't it? I have always found him to be the most truthful of Shakespeare's creations. We are none of us who we are.” 0 likes
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