Garden of Stones
In 1978 San Francisco, Patty Takeda is awakened from a nightmare by the ringing of the doorbell. Her mother, Lucy, opens the door to a detective who is there to inquire about a murder. Lucy is implicated, for she was spotted in the building of the dead man, whom she had known previously. In 1942, at the infamous Manzanar camp, pretty Lucy and her charismatic mother, along with about 10,000 other Japanese-Americans, were interned following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
When Lucy is taken into custody Patty is baffled, for her mother hadn’t told her much about their past. She is determined to get Lucy released and in the process learns much about what happened to her mother and grandmother at Manzanar. The camp’s appalling living conditions in the California desert—the uncomfortable huts, overflowing toilets, bad food, and the burly guards’ sexual advances on the vulnerable young women—are narrated artfully and with empathy. Although the historical details are minimal, they are sufficient for unfamiliar readers to learn about that embarrassing period of US history.
The novel’s plot is structured in a dual timeframe. The third-person narrative shifts between the WWII years and 1978, as told through the discoveries of photo albums, letters and reminiscences. This requires attentive reading, for Lucy features in both periods. The mysterious murder at the start of the novel, and another killing about halfway through, skillfully bind the story’s twin frames to keep readers interested to the surprise revelations at the ending. The novel’s premise is essentially based on the philosophical question: how far would a mother go to protect her defenceless daughter from sexual exploitation?
Readers will recognise the similarity of this novel to the award-winning book and film Snow Falling on Cedars, and it will surely be just as well received. Highly recommended.