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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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown Publishing
Publication Date: May 2013
Categories: Literary, Chechnya
In his brilliant, haunting novel, Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa’s house. But when he finds her hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.

My Thoughts:

What I knew about Chechnya could have fit inside of a teacup. “Oh yea, that place where there’s been a lot of trouble. It’s in Russia, right?” I have a much better grasp of the events there after reading this book. Marra explains the past of this country in an accessible and moving way.

The story here isn’t as much about politics and wars as it is about what happens to the people and their relationships because of such hardships. Marra focuses on the humans caught in these events. How do they continue to carve out a life in a war-torn country? How do they survive the fear? What sacrifices will they make to continue to feel like humans at all? 

This is an incredible story about a young girl and the man who decides to take care of her when she is left alone in the world. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is powerful, emotional, and incredibly compelling. 
This novel is not to be missed. You’ll be thinking of it long after you’ve read the last page.

Stegner Fellow, Iowa MFA, and winner of The Atlantic’s Student Writing Contest, ANTHONY MARRA has won the Pushcart Prize, the Narrative Prize, and a scholarship to Bread Loaf. He is also the recipient of the 2012 Whiting Writers’ Award. He has studied, resided, and traveled throughout Eastern Europe. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is his first novel.

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