Monday, February 25, 2013

Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield

If you know Sophie Littlefield's writing only from her Stella Hardesty mysteries, her novel Garden of Stones will be a surprise. On the other hand, once again, she has written about strong women, survivors who did what they needed to do, and her story has mystery and unexpected twists to it.

In San Francisco in 1978, the owner of a gym is killed. When the police show up to talk to Lucy Takeda, it comes as a shock to her daughter, Patty. However, witnesses described Lucy, and it's hard to mistake the Japanese-American woman with the disfigured face. As Patty struggles to find out why her mother would have killed a strange man, she uncovers secrets of her mother's early life, her teenage years detained in Manzanar.

Lucy Takeda was in eighth grade in Los Angeles in 1941, the happy, privileged daughter of a successful businessman. Her mother, Miyeka, though, was a beautiful quiet woman, sometimes withdrawn, easily upset, and, as her daughter learned later, manic-depressive. Lucy's father coddled them both, but his death on Dec. 7, 1941 spared him the tragic fate that awaited his wife and daughter, and so many other Japanese-Americans, internment in camps.Before they were rounded up, they witnessed  forces that "Broke down doors in the middle of the night, that cut slits in people's sofas looking for evidence of treason, that broke treasured records in half just because the labels bore Japanese words." On March 22, 1942, Lucy and her mother were put on a train and sent to Manzanar.

There were 10,000 people living in Manzanar, and several hundred staff. They lived in terrible conditions with sand coming through cracks in the walls, food that was inedible. And, they lived with terrible conditions in the latrines, where all their privacy and modesty were taken from them. Lucy found friendship with a boy named Jesse, her first boyfriend, but it wasn't long before the corruption in the camp invaded every corner of her life, from her job delivering mail, to her relationship with Jesse, to her mother. And, it was watching what that life that did to her mother that changed Lucy. Lucy grew to resemble her beautiful mother, Miyeka, but in that internment camps, beauty could be a curse. Despite her own weakness, Miyeka was willing to give up everything to save her daughter, to keep her from sharing her fate.

There were some secrets from Lucy's life that her daughter, Patty, would never know. Patty might use the story of Manzanar to try to keep her mother from being arrested for murder, but she'd never know the truth. Littlefield skillfully weaves the story of Lucy's early life with Patty's search for answers. But, she'd never know what her mother knew and did. She would never really know her mother.  "How lonely it was to be a keeper of secrets."

Littlefield's Garden of Stones is a powerful look at a disgraceful time in American history. Lucy's story might be fiction, but it makes it all the more powerful. Read Garden of Stones in conjunction with Sandra Dallas' Tallgrass. Or, even in conjunction with nonfiction books such as Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Sophie Littlefield shines a light on the cruelty and suffering that happened right here in the United States. But, her novel is so much bigger, as a story of women doing what they must to survive.

Garden of Stones is a remarkable novel, telling two stories that are often forgotten, Manzanar, and the story of women. I can't recommend it highly enough as a selection for book groups. And, I can't recommend it highly enough for anyone wanting a story about strong women overcoming the worst that life can throw at them.

Sophie Littlefield's website is

Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield. Harlequin. 2013. ISBN 9780778313526 (paperback), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Patricia Stoltey said...

It's good to see more books on this subject. Tallgrass was so good, and it looks like Sophie's novel is a must-read as well. Thanks Lesa, for featuring this novel today.

Lesa said...

My pleasure, Patricia. You're right. There are books lacking on this subject. Dallas' Tallgrass was wonderful. And, I think you'll be impressed with Sophie's book.