I loved this huge story. Sometime last month I came across a years-old video interview of Gilbert by the author ZZ Packer. Gilbert’s responses were so natural and open, it reminded me how much I admired her bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. I remember thinking of that book that I would never have revealed as much of myself as she had, but she is still doing it! She just blurts out what she thinks and instead of liking her less, we like her more. It helps that she has a commodious, first-class mind; I find her absolutely irresistible.
Books about early world-wide plant-seekers have always been a favorite of mine. Gilbert recreates the awesome wonder of the major botanical gardens and gives us the deeply imagined personality of Henry Whittaker, the Englishman who built a plant empire at White Acre in Pennsylvania. We are treated also to his daughter, Alma, who comes to take over the business and become a scientist and businesswoman in her own right.
Along the way, we come across all that life can throw at one: the joy of discovery, the humiliations in love, the pain of communication, the heartbreak of misunderstanding, the excitement of finding purpose and direction. Gilbert held me rapt as she added layer upon layer of gloss to the story until the whole had a three-dimensional depth and distance of a lovingly created terrarium featuring a world long past. I was a child again, and I willingly succumbed to her vision.
The book wasn’t without its moments of humor or depth of purpose. Gilbert raises something that seems to me momentous in our understanding of the world. She points out that struggle is the necessary impetus to change and to growth in the world and for individuals. It is the part of life we often like least but is the most necessary for our survival. Those who turn toward the challenge may often better manage the change that comes than those who deny or fear “the great changes that life brings.”
Once again Gilbert has shown her skill in creating an easily-read story which carries with it great truths. I am delighted she was able to turn her attention to fiction, since despite her work on nonfiction in the past, she claims her interest has always been to write fiction. I can’t wait to see what she will come up with next. By the way, this is the perfect summer read: big, engrossing, fabulous.
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