Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening - Carol Wall

I am an admirer of gardens, but I am not a gardener. I have no patience for it, nor any desire to develop the patience for it. 

I'm not proud of the fact that I read very little non-fiction, but I'm not ashamed by that, either. 

I also tend to stay away from stories that even sound like they might get treacly.  

All three of these things somehow did not prevent me from picking up a galley we had in the store of Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall. Honestly, I can't even remember why I did, but I do remember thumbing through it lightly, thinking the chapters were short, it wasn't terribly thick, and that it might tide me over until I found something else I really wanted to read.

Maybe it was this first line in the prologue:  I never liked getting my hands dirty. Just like that, I was identifying with Mrs. Wall, and thought perhaps we could be companions for the time it took me to skim her memoir. 

Little did I expect that I would become so engrossed in her story that I would have an utter meltdown when I discovered that the galley was missing chapters, or that it would send me running to my Twitter account in a desperate attempt to get the attention of somebody at Penguin to HELP, but let's just say that all of that had a happy ending and that when my replacement copy got to me a day later (Seriously?  How ridiculously amazing is THAT?) I actually teared up a little. 

But I did get that caught up, and I finished this lovely, lovely book last night (sorry about supper, Honey), and now I can hardly wait for its publication date so that I can begin to grab my customers by the nape of the neck and sell it to them. I'm already an apostle for this book, and my customers will know it. 

You probably want a little more about the stuff in the book. Okay, fine. Carol Wall is, like me, a person who wants her yard not to be the worst one on the street, but just wants somebody else to handle it all. She has admired the garden of one of her neighbors, and so hires that woman's gardener, Mr. Owita, to help her. She gives him a list of instructions  -- rip out the azaleas, no flowers, just green things -- all of which he manages to ignore while gently bringing her along to his way of thinking. 

Mr. Owita is a native of Kenya, living here with his wife and sons. He isn't just a gardener, he also works at the nursery and also has a job at the grocery store Mrs. Wall patronizes. For these reasons, she and the reader make a hundred little assumptions about Mr. Owita and his life, all of which prove to be very, very wrong. 

It doesn't take long for the two of them to form a bond that defies explanation. I appreciated that Mrs. Wall never attempts to explain it herself, nor does she attempt to soften the focus when she turns it on the other things going on in her life, some of which paint her in a less than flattering, but very human, light.

She also doesn't oversell the fact that Giles Owita is a wise and gentle man. I bet we've all read those memoirs about folks who develop a relationship despite cultural differences of many sorts, and they generally wind up reading like rejected scripts for The Karate Kid.  

Look. I don't know how Mrs. Wall manged to pull this off. I can't even put my finger on what it is she did pull off. I just know that I felt drawn into the middle of their relationship, and that I am very glad I accepted the invitation to do so. 

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening
Carol Wall
An Amy Einhorn Book
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA)

Publication Date: March 4, 2014

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