So begins Ellen's heartbreaking story of coming of age in the long shadow of World War II. She starts with Randall, the cousin with whom she had shared Easter Sundays, secrets and, perhaps, love. When Ellen receives a package after Randall's death containing his diary and a book called The Gardens of Kyoto, the mysteries of his short life start to unravel. But it soon becomes apparent that Ellen's memory may be distorting reality, altered as it is by a mix of imagination and disappointment, and that the truth about Randall, and others, may be hidden.
With lyrical, seductive prose, Walbert spins several parallel stories of the damage done by war. Like the mysterious arrangements of the intricate sand, rock and gravel gardens of Kyoto, they gracefully assemble into a single, rich mosaic.