Tuesday 8 January 2013

Book Review: GARDEN OF STONES by Sophie Littlefield

Garden of Stones

Title: Garden of Stones

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (January 2013)
Read: December 21 - 22, 2012

Synopsis (Goodreads):

In the dark days of war, a mother makes the ultimate sacrifice Lucy Takeda is just fourteen years old, living in Los Angeles, when the bombs rain down on Pearl Harbor. Within weeks, she and her mother, Miyako, are ripped from their home, rounded up-along with thousands of other innocent Japanese-Americans-and taken to the Manzanar prison camp.

Buffeted by blistering heat and choking dust, Lucy and Miyako must endure the harsh living conditions of the camp. Corruption and abuse creep into every corner of Manzanar, eventually ensnaring beautiful, vulnerable Miyako. Ruined and unwilling to surrender her daughter to the same fate, Miyako soon breaks. Her final act of desperation will stay with Lucy forever...and spur her to sins of her own.

Bestselling author Sophie Littlefield weaves a powerful tale of stolen innocence and survival that echoes through generations, reverberating between mothers and daughters. It is a moving chronicle of injustice, triumph and the unspeakable acts we commit in the name of love.

My thoughts:

Opening with a modern-day murder mystery, Garden of Stones is a rich, touching and poignant historical tale describing the fate of a Japanese-American girl caught up in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour and sent to the infamous Japanese internment camp near Manzanar, California, which will change her life and future forever.

Lucy Takeda is a pretty fourteen-year-old girl living in Los Angeles and mourning her recently deceased father when the bombing of Pearl Harbour takes place on December 7, 1941. Sharing the fate of over 120,000 other Japanese Americans, Lucy and her mother Miyako are forced to leave their home to be “relocated” to Manzanar, the first of the ten concentration camps to be established in the US to house these political prisoners. Having been born in America and growing up as the privileged single child of a wealthy American-Japanese businessman, Lucy is a Nisei, a person of Japanese ancestry born in America. She identifies strongly as American, like many other fellow camp inmates with similar backgrounds. Yet they are being treated like prisoners, having to endure harsh living conditions, a total lack of privacy and personal freedom, and being subject to abuse from senior camp officials.

Miyako, a strikingly beautiful woman who has been suffering from bouts of depression and mania as long as Lucy can remember, is finding life in the camp especially hard, often staying in bed for days. Left to her own devices, spirited and proactive Lucy soon adapts to her new circumstances and unjust internment, making friends and holding down an after-school position as delivery person in the camp. But when Miyako starts a new job and catches the eye of a cruel and corrupt camp commander, their lives change for the worse. Abused, beaten and broken, Miyako tries to save her daughter from the same fate, committing an act of desperation that will forever shadow Lucy’s future and shape her life in ways she could never have envisaged.

Garden of Stones is one of the best books I have read all year, presenting yet another completely different aspect of the effects of WW2 on members of the population. With a keen insight into historical events and human relationships, the author brings this era of history to life in ways that drew me in completely, keeping me spellbound until the last page had been turned. It is impossible not to suffer with Lucy, a plucky, intelligent and spirited child, whose life is completely derailed by large political events as well as corruption and cruelty on a local level. Camp life is realistically portrayed in a way which allowed the reader to see it through the eyes of an adolescent girl and feel the effects of the imposed hardship on Lucy’s personality, making her stronger and more resistant to adversity.

Misadventure seems to follow her mother Miyako, drawn in by her exceptional beauty and her damaged psyche.

“I am cursed”, Miyako confides to her friend when Lucy’s safety is also threatened, “We are both cursed. I should never have had her.” 

Careful not to throw in any spoilers, I will just say that Miyako’s act of desperation to save her daughter from the “curse” is so extreme, and so unimaginable, that I reeled from the shock of it and put much of it down to Miyako’s fragile state of mind. Surely no mother in her right mind would go to such extremes – or would they? It is hard to fathom the despair of someone cornered, trying everything in their power to protect their child.

Lucy makes a wonderful protagonist, and my heart bled for her. Getting back up again after every knock, overcoming every hardship, Lucy is a person I admired greatly. Yet the older Lucy, who the reader is introduced to in the modern-day segments of the story, seems to have lost a lot of that unlimited positive energy and resilience that defines her in her youth. Only towards the end of the novel the reader is able to understand just how deeply her mother’s “curse” has affected her, shaping her life and robbing her of the future that should have been due to her young and beautiful self.

The dual-time structure of the novel worked well for me, with the modern-day murder mystery initiating the tale of Lucy’s childhood experiences. The historical events form the larger part of the novel, but its modern day components add depth to the characters and slowly reveal the mystery at the heart of the story - which ultimately solves the murder case and reveals much about the characters involved. Lucy’s daughter Patty, so different to the young Lucy we get to know, stays a bit of an enigma all along, but the series of events towards the end of the book provides the big “aha”-moment, bringing all loose threads together.

For me, Garden of Stones was an evocative, thought provoking and heart-wrenching tale of injustice, suffering, human relationships and the triumph of the human spirit. The story opened my eyes to a part of history I had given little thought to, and its haunting tale will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended!

Disclaimer: Thank you to Harlequin Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

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