In The Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve

In the Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve
Publisher: Hub City Press
Publication Date: May 2013
Categories: Literary, Saga
Source: Hub City Press via TLC Book Tours


Shortly before daybreak in War, West Virginia, a passing train derails and spills an avalanche of coal over sixteen-year-old Emma Palmisano’s house, trapping her sleeping family inside. The year is 1924, and the remote mines of Appalachia have filled with families like Emma’s immigrant laborers building new lives half a world away from the island of Sicily. Emma awakes in total darkness, to the voice of a railroad man, Caleb Sypher, digging her out from the suffocating coal. From his pocket he removes two spotless handkerchiefs and tenderly cleans Emma’s bare feet. Though she knows little else about this railroad man, Emma marries him a week later, and Caleb delivers her from the gritty coal camp to thirty-four acres of pristine Virginia mountain farmland. 

In the Garden of Stone is a multi-generational tale about the nature of power and pride, love and loss, and how one family endures estrangement from their land and each other in order to unearth the rich seams of forgiveness. Bleak, harrowing, and beautifully told, In the Garden of Stone is a haunting saga of endurance and redemption.

My Thoughts:

The Setting~ West Virginia came alive through the descriptions in this novel. The descriptions of the landscape made me feel as if I were really there.The times featured were interesting as well. When we imagine the past we think of a simpler time. Things may have been simpler but they were also harder than we can imagine.

The Pace~ This tale unwound in a deliciously slow way. 

The Characters~ The people in this book were flawed, which is just another word for realistic. I miss spending time with them. Can we expect a sequel? I’m crossing my fingers.

The Format~ You could argue that this is a book of short stories. I enjoyed learning new details about certain events when the story was told from a different characters perspective. This method really worked to drive the story forward in a unique way.

The Mood~ The description above nailed it: bleak, harrowing, and haunting. The language is beautifully poetic.

In the Garden of Stone is a book I can easily recommend. 

Susan Tekulve’s nonfiction, short stories and essays have appeared in journals such as Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, The Georgia Review, Connecticut Review, and Shenandoah. Her story collection, My Mother’s War Stories, received the 2004 Winnow Press fiction prize. Author of Savage Pilgrims, a story collection (Serving House Books, 2009), she has received scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Scholarship and teaches writing at Converse College.

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The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: March 2013
Categories: WWII, Historical Fiction, Japan
A lush, exquisitely-rendered meditation on war,The God of Heavenly Punishment tells the story of several families, American and Japanese, their loves and infidelities, their dreams and losses, and how they are all connected by one of the most devastating acts of war in human history.
In 1935, Yoshi Kobayashi is the six-year-old daughter of a sophisticated, iconoclastic mother and an unread, nationalistic father. Years later, as a teen in Manchuria, she witnesses, first-hand, the harsh realities Japan’s expansionist dreams—even as she discovers the first blush of love. During the worst days of the war in Tokyo, Yoshi balances school work with ration lines—even while caring for her mother whose rebellious spirit has been brutally broken by the men who wage war. Then, one March night, Yoshi’s world is finally consumed by flame when hundreds of American B-29’s scorch the night sky, showering napalm down upon her city. Left alone among the ruins, Yoshi’s fate will now depend on her will to live and the unlikely intersections with three men whom she’d have once considered “enemies”: a downed American bomber pilot, a Hungarian-born architect, and an Occupying Forces intelligence officer with his own damning secret.
My Thoughts:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Learning new things is my favorite part about reading. This book opened my eyes to the events in Japan both before and after WWII. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is  told from the point of view of a young Japanese girl, certainly like nothing I’ve read before.

The characters lives are interconnected in interesting, yet plausible, ways. The men and women that people this story are convincing and genuine. Days after reading this I can’t stop thinking of them.

This book offers an unflinching look at the horrors of war. You’ll find yourself holding your breath during the firebombing of Tokyo. Cody Epstein doesn’t focus on the atrocities as much as on the relationships between people devastated by the events.

Ambitious and breathtaking, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is not to be missed.

Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment and the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Self, Mademoiselle and NBC, and has worked in Hong Kong, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand.
Jennifer lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two daughters and especially needy Springer Spaniel.
To connect with Jennifer, “like” her on Facebook.

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