Thursday, April 18, 2013

In the Garden of Stone

In the Garden of Stone
by: Susan Tekulve
Paperback 260 pages
Publication Date: May-2013
Publisher: Hub City Press

Book Description:
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—poor, 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, who is 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.
Winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize in 2012, In the Garden of Stone is a multi-generational tale about the nature of power and pride, love and loss, and how one impoverished family endures estrangement from their land and each other in order to unearth the rich seams of forgiveness. Emma gives birth to a son, Dean, but the family’s life is shattered by a hobo’s bullet at the railroad station; the boy grows up early, becoming a remote man with fierce and unpredictable loyalties. Dean’s daughter, Hannah, forsakes her heritage and wanders far from home, in the end reconnecting with the Sypher family in the wildest place of all, the human heart. Bleak, harrowing, and beautifully told, In the Garden of Stone, is a haunting saga of endurance and redemption.

Idgie Says: 
A beautiful and heartrending story of a family set in the West Virginia coal mines - existing, loving and surviving.  The novel starts in 1924 and finishes in 1973.

This is a story of tough people.  They work all day, then work again half the night, yet somehow they find time to love.  But I always felt that their love lived in conjunction with exhaustion.  Small moments of joy fighting against the simple surviving that was their everyday life.

To work so hard to keep gardens, animals and the people you love alive in such an existence where you have to remember how fragile it all really is, this is an existence where you have to enjoy even the tiniest bits of happiness before they too disappear.

From Emma and her mysterious railroad man she marries after meeting only a few times; the mother who can take to her bed with something so little as coal dirt on clean clothes; the man in the woods that has lost his mind but believes he must protect Emma; to Emma's son, Dean, who hates the mines but who is a hero for saving men and livestock from a horrible death - these are characters that come to life within the novel.  From there the novel then follows Dean, his dreams and secrets and life as it evolves into what it will be..... and finally to his child, Hannah, whose only wish for so long is to escape where her family roots hold the strongest. 

A saga filled with love and longing and loss, but also the sheer determination of human nature to overcome and thrive in the face of hostility - be it natural or manmade.

Very well written and grips you the minute you dive into the first chapter.


Read an Article on Susan Tekulve here.