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In the Garden of Stone

In the Garden of Stone

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by Susan Tekulve
     
 

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"Susan Tekulve is not just a writer, but a real anthropologist of this world. She affords this land and these people—the Syphers of the Virginia and West Virginia mountains—the whole of their dignity. The sensibility of In the Garden of Stone is tender, heartfelt, and deeply committed."
—Robert Olmstead

"In the Garden of Stone is a

Overview

"Susan Tekulve is not just a writer, but a real anthropologist of this world. She affords this land and these people—the Syphers of the Virginia and West Virginia mountains—the whole of their dignity. The sensibility of In the Garden of Stone is tender, heartfelt, and deeply committed."
—Robert Olmstead

"In the Garden of Stone is a beautifully written saga telling the story of successive generations of a West Virginia family living out their lives in one particular spot of earth. There's a remarkable sensitivity to the mystery of how place affects human souls, and the descriptions of the land are masterful. This is a writer who definitely has what it takes to make a real contribution to Southern literature."
—Josephine Humphreys

Winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize

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 34 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 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Tekulve’s debut novel, winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize, loops around and through the lives of one poor West Virginia family of Italian immigrants from the 1920s into the 1970s. Beginning with Emma Sypher, who marries a railroad worker in her small town of War, the constant here is hard, rural living. When Emma’s husband is killed by a tramp, their 12-year-old son, Dean, is sent to live with his grandparents, working the mines. In time the narrative leaps to Dean’s wife, Sadie, in 1937, and then to their daughter, Hannah, 20 years later, with side characters and scenic overlooks along the way. The book reads less like a novel than a loosely linked collection of short stories, with abrupt shifts in time and point of view that deaden emotional engagement, despite the hardships each character faces. Though the plot offers few footholds and frequent repetitions, descriptions of living off of the land—and the land itself—are in abundant supply. Tekulve (My Mother’s War) takes the long view of family and relationships, giving us snapshots of the landmarks that echo through generations. (May)
Library Journal
This debut novel opens in 1924 with the derailment of a passing train that buries 16-year-old Emma Palmisano's house in coal. Caleb, the railroad man who rescues Emma, marries her a week later and gifts her with 47 acres of Virginia farmland. The novel tells the story of the successive generations of Emma and Caleb's family, who endure and grow despite poverty and hardship. Winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize, Tekulve's (My Mother's War Stories) sprawling work, which spans more than six decades and involves a rich cast of characters, describes with gritty realism the poverty of West Virginia's coal camps. VERDICT While the plot wanders at times, Tekulve's story is completely absorbing and her characters moving. Fans of Lee Smith and Southern literary fiction will find much to savor here. [Highlighted in "Editors' Spring Picks: Titles That Have Gotten Us Talking," LJ 2/15/13.—Ed.]—Mara Dabrishus, Ursuline Coll. Lib., Pepper Pike, OH
Kirkus Reviews
It is 1924. Up in West Virginia's coal country, in a town called War, young Emma awakens one morning to find her house buried in the debris of an overturned rail car. Tekulve's (Savage Pilgrims, 2009, etc.) debut novel examines love, family and place through an affecting multigenerational saga. Emma's the daughter of a Sicilian immigrant and his American schoolteacher wife, a woman grown bitter. The lone girl in a houseful of brothers, all coal miners like her father, Emma helps her mother, a deeply religious Catholic convert, with the work demanded by the harsh, coal dust–covered world. Perhaps there is symbolism when Caleb Sypher uses a white handkerchief to clean Emma's bloody feet after the derailment. There is certainly love and empathy and then a wedding a week later, after which Emma and Caleb retreat to his Virginia farm. Tekulve's descriptions of the hard, cold, dirty coal camp life, above and below ground, are masterful, and as the narrative moves to Virginia and Caleb is battered by the Great Depression, the author superbly draws struggling Caleb's withdrawal into his perception of perfection: an ornate Italian garden set among the mountain's hemlocks, blue laurels and rhododendrons. But Caleb is murdered by a tramp, and the narrative evolves to follow Dean, their son. Dean's reluctantly taken to War while his shattered mother recovers, but Dean loves the mountain farm and treasures his mother. He returns to care for her and soon marries Sadie--think Ruby from Cold Mountain--a lonely girl who births him a daughter, Hannah. Tekulve's great gift is to live in the hearts of her characters, whether it be Caleb, Emma, Dean, Sadie or the older Italian immigrant generation toiling in the mines. Lyrical, haunting literary fiction.
Robert Olmstead
"You ever want to be somebody else?" Herein the soft, slow, cool story of human raveling and unraveling. There is always a quiet peace that descends when I read Susan Tekulve. These still waters, they run mighty deep.
Thomas E. Kennedy
Prepare yourself for the pleasures of a story well written, well told. Prepare for the simple redolent pleasures of fresh-baked bread and for heartbreak, too, and the fevered tragic crimes of and from poverty. Prepare also to witness the sympathetic yearning that rises from the solitary heart for the pleasures and sorrows of life, reaching out of the stone of art to be sculpted. This is a beautifully sculpted novel of fully realized characters whose story will grip you from start to finish.
Josephine Humphreys
In the Garden of Stone is a beautifully written saga telling the story of successive generations of a West Virginia family living out their lives in one particular spot of earth. There's a remarkable sensitivity to the mystery of how place affects human souls, and the descriptions of the land are masterful. This is a writer who definitely has what it takes to make a real contribution to Southern literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781891885211
Publisher:
Hub City Writers Project
Publication date:
11/15/2001
Pages:
335
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Susan Tekulve's nonfiction, short stories, and essays have appeared in journals including Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, Georgia Review, Connecticut Review, and Shenandoah. Her story collection My Mother's War Stories received the 2004 Winnow Press fiction prize. Also author of the story collection Savage Pilgrims (Serving House Books, 2009), she has received scholarships from the Sewanee Writers' Conference and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. She teaches writing at Converse College.

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In the Garden of Stone 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beautifully well written story.  I loved reading every page.  A must read!
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings My favorite narrator was Sadie, her story begins before she is on the property that is the central focus, but after she gets onto the property, I felt like the story really took off.  I loved her story and where she began and the journey she took while on the land was significant.  Her daughter's perspective was my other favorite, Haddie was able to tell another side of her immediate family's story and I found her to be a little more honest than her parents.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago