A quirky, entertaining, and richly emotional look at the inner life of one particularly introspective and perceptive gardener. Kincaid (My Brother: A Memoir, 1997; The Autobiography of My Mother, 1996; etc.), a native of Antigua transplanted to Vermont, says of her own garden, which resembles a map of the Caribbean, that it is an exercise in memory. Memories and history figure large here. The sight of a hollyhock, one of her favorite flowers, stirs unhappy childhood memories of harvesting cotton, its close relative, and leads her into a pain-filled discourse on history. Books and reading, too, are at the center of Kincaid's work: books about gardens and gardening and books on horticulture and botany, but most of all seed and plant catalogues, the gardeners' wish books. For Kincaid, the grimness of the long Vermont winter is eased by the joy of catalogues, especially the plain ones without color pictures and captions. One of the book's most memorable scenes is of Kincaid on a ten-below-zero day sitting in a tub of hot water eating oranges and reading Ronniger's Seed Potatoes catalogue. Her description of plant hunting in China, where she spent a month with other plant enthusiasts gathering seeds in remote areas, is both witty and poignant, and there are thoughtful visits to Monet's garden at Giverny and Vita Sackville-West's famous English garden, Sissinghurst. Kincaid's unique style, replete with odd parentheses (the title, for example), asides, deliberate repetitions, and rhetorical questions, draws the reader into her personal world of anxieties, hopes, and joys. Kincaid has given her fellow gardeners something far more engrossing than seed catalogues to look forward to this winter.
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