Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: "In the Garden of Stone" by Susan Tekulve

In the Garden of Stone Susan Tekulve
Published: April 30, 2013
ISBN-10: 1891885219
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommended for readers who enjoy flawed characters


Shortly before daybreak in War, West Virginia, a passing train derails and spills an avalanche of coal over 16-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 awakens 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. Caleb delivers her from the gritty coal camp to 47 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 impoverished family endures estrangement from the 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.

My thoughts:
There are novels that are more poetry than prose, and In the Garden of Stone is certainly one of them.  Tekulve writing style is hypnotic and mesmerizing.  It seemed as if Tekulve was in the room telling me a story rather than me reading her words.

The structure of the book is innovative as well.  The argument can be made that this is a collection of short stories instead of a novel.  In fact, some of the chapters have been published as standalone stories.  Each chapter is another slice of life of the Sypher family.  This could have very easily not worked--even in shorter story collections, it is hard for an author to maintain momentum through individual stories.  Yet, Tekulve is able to do just that.  A few incidents in the books are recapped several times in various chapters, which could very easily be an annoyance for the reader.  Instead, the curtain is pulled back just a bit more each time Tekulve goes back to this events.

While this isn't the most uplifting book--the characters are wholly human and therefore wholly flawed--it is one of the more fulfilling works of literature I have read in quite some time.

Want a second opinion?  Check out some of the other stops on the tour!
Monday, May 13th:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, May 14th:  Caribousmom
Wednesday, May 15th:  WV Stitcher
Friday, May 17th:  Fiction Addict
Tuesday, May 21st:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, May 22nd:  Unabridged Chick
Thursday, May 23rd:  Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, May 28th:  Peppermint Ph.D.
Wednesday, May 29th:  Rhapsody in Books
Thursday, May 30th:  The Relentless Reader
Tuesday, June 4th:  Chaotic Compendiums
Thursday, June 6th:  Book Chatter
This review is part of a book tour by TLC Book Tours.  I received a copy of the book to read and review.  However, all opinions expressed in this review are mine and mine alone, and I received no other compensation for this review.

In the Garden of Stone
by Susan Tekulve


  1. I can think of a few people to recommend this to based on the poetic writing, and even more who would read it just for the story.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  2. I loved how the curtain was pulled back a bit further in each chapter. I thought that worked very well :)

  3. "Each chapter is another slice of life of the Sypher family. This could have very easily not worked--even in shorter story collections, it is hard for an author to maintain momentum through individual stories. Yet, Tekulve is able to do just that."

    I was actually surprised when I read that a few of the chapters had been published as short stories alone. Each is so important to the telling of the entire story! I would imagine someone who liked the short story would LOVE the entire book with the "curtain pulled back" all the way :) Enjoyed your review!