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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Kincaid's ruminations on gardening provide the framework for the book. In the lyrical and poetic style that has become this author's trademark, she enumerates her many frustrations with her Vermont garden: wisteria that is blooming out of season, choices of placement and arrangement that do not fulfill her expectations, and mischievous beetles ("I plot ways to kill them but can never bring myself to do it"). Fellow gardeners will commiserate with the regret expressed over missed opportunities -- not ordering a particular seed when it was available or planting a new treasure too early or too late. But even an inexperienced gardener can tell that these complaints are part and parcel of the obvious passion that Kincaid feels for her hobby. Ironically, this passion is most gloriously apparent in the section on the garden in winter, which is described as "a graveyard" that leaves its keeper "almost in a state of disbelief." The reader gets the impression that the dormancy of her garden is perhaps the impetus for Kincaid's other creative outlet -- her writing.
In fact, Kincaid's musings on her garden are so charming, so full of childlike wonder, yet still laced with the humor and appreciation of an adult, that they alone could sustain this book. But like the garden that meanders and seems to be without a discernible pattern, so too the author's thoughts roam from one subject to the next, from the story of the acquisition of her current home to Monet's flower garden at Giverny. Particularly interesting are her reflections on her native home, the island of Antigua in the West Indies. It is in Antigua -- a place that she describes as, "green, green, green, and green again" -- that a love of gardens and plants and things that are green begins to grow inside this author. In a way, Kincaid's childhood memories do as much to explain how she came to be a writer as they do to explain how she came to be an avid gardener.
Equally intriguing, though, is Kincaid's brief appraisal of the so-called discovery of Antigua by Christopher Columbus. Kincaid wryly observes: "That it is new only to him, that it had a substantial existence, physical and spiritual, before he became aware of it, does not occur to him." Such brief but keen observations are typical of this book, as Kincaid touches down upon one topic and then another, like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower in her garden. Two other figures of interest to the author are the botanists Carolus Linneaus and George Clifford, and so Kincaid adds them to her historical detour -- as always, within the framework of their relation to her personal history. Actually, a great deal of the charm of Kincaid's ramblings is in her frequent interjections, almost as if she is interrupting her own train of thought to poke fun at herself or her subject.
Kincaid devotes a portion of My Garden (Book) to the community of gardeners of which she is a part. References to her fellow gardeners and various nursery-owners are sprinkled throughout the book in the same way that the names of one's relatives and friends seep into conversation. With great delight, she tells of her many seed catalog purchases -- which ones were successful and which were vexing failures. One of the most delightful parts of the book is a section describing her trip to China on a seed-collecting expedition, with a group of nursery-owners and botanists, during which she experiences acute homesickness for her family in Vermont. Here, Jamaica Kincaid the storyteller takes over and fully overshadows Jamaica Kincaid the gardener, and the result is quite humorous.
Much like the garden Kincaid describes near the beginning of her book -- the garden that is full of oddly shaped mounds and unusual patterns that seems to have neither rhyme nor reason -- this book is a scattered and colorful contemplation of many things, told from the vantage point of a gardener. But like Kincaid's garden, a higher design ultimately emerges. After planting her flowerbeds based on her whims and fancies, Kincaid realized that she had planted a landscape based on the geography of the islands of the West Indies. In the same fashion, what emerges from this narrative is a fertile arrangement of the many thoughts of a truly artistic, perceptive, and creative mind, infused with humor. Jamaica Kincaid's garden makes an exceptionally enjoyable book.