by Joanne Tailele
Stephen, a twenty year old Chinese Lingham University student has returned to his mother’s home in Hong Kong to recuperate from tuberculosis. However, his health does not improve in the damp, stifling city. So his father orders him to Tarumi, Japan, where the weather is drier, to live with his grandfather’s quiet housekeeper and master gardener, Matsu.
Matsu becomes Stephen’s spiritual healer as well as caretaker for his body. Through the course of a year in the quiet seaside village, Stephen learns beauty in a world racked with war and injustice. Set in the 1930’s, the war between China and Japan is a subtle backdrop to the plot.
While the Japanese Imperial Army storms through China, overtaking city after city, edging closer and closer to his family, Stephen is isolated from the terrors of war in the little fishing village of Tarumi. However, the radio news reports alert him that there is reason to fear for the safety of his mother and sister back in China. Balancing that knowledge with the people he is growing to love in Japan, Stephen grows into a man. He learns about sacrifice and love in a village of lepers, while Sachi, a gentle leper, captures his heart. Honor plays a major role that is steeped in the Japanese culture. Sachi chooses the isolated life in the leper colony when she can’t bring honor to her family by committing suicide. Kenzo, repulsed by Sachi’s affliction but unable to completely let go, watches from afar. Mastu takes on the role as caretaker, lover and friend to the disfigured woman. Completing the love triangle, Keiko, Japanese, is infatuated with Stephen. Can their relationship blossom with their countries at war with each other?
The story is beautifully written, in the graceful and poetic style that its title suggests. The Garden will touch your soul and like Stephen, show you the beauty in others and the potential for your own spiritual growth.
Joanne Tailele has been a full time resident of Marco Island for two years. Born in Youngstown, her last “home” for 12 years was Columbus, Ohio. Between Joanne and her husband, she has six children and nine grandchildren. She works as a receptionist for a local real estate company.