I had a cousin, Randall, killed on Iwo Jima. Have I told you?
So begins Kate Walbert's beautiful and heartbreaking 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, 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. 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 prizewinning story, this masterful first novel established Walbert as a writer of astonishing elegance and power. In its review, USA Today declared, "Readers in love with language will adore this book."
Kate Walbert is the author of A Mother Is Someone Who Tells Jokes, His Favorites, and five previous books of fiction: The Sunken Cathedral; A Short History of Women, a New York Times Book Review ten best books of the year and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Our Kind, a National Book Award finalist; The Gardens of Kyoto; and the story collection Where She Went. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize stories. She lives in New York City.