Audiobook Review: THE RED GARDEN by Alice Hoffman

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Format: Audio; 6 CDs (7 hrs. 19 min.)
Narrator: Nancy Travis
Publisher: Crown
Released: January 25, 2011
Source: Borrowed from the library

The Red Garden introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in its history and in our own lives.

In exquisite prose, Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters’ lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions.

From the town’s founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives.

At the center of everyone’s life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look.

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This is another wonderful book to add to my list of favorites this year. THE RED GARDEN was different than my usual reads, because it’s actually the story of a town called Blackwell, told in a collection of interconnected short stories about the people who’ve lived there.

The first story begins in the mid-1700s, when a small group of lost travelers settles in the valley below Hightop Mountain in Massachusetts, and the final one concludes in present day. The stories are presented chronologically, all featuring descendants of the original three families who survived the first winter. The tales flowed together smoothly, and often times we would meet characters again in their later years.

Themes present throughout the book are love, loss, nature, and magic. I would almost consider this a collection of American folktales, because plenty of unexplained phenomena happen – a garden that only grows red plants, a ghost that haunts the river, a bear charmer, and more. And there’s always a lesson to take away from the tale.

THE RED GARDEN is a beautiful yet haunting book that will stay with me for a long time. The descriptions of the places and people were so vivid, I felt like I was a resident of Blackwell too. Not all the stories were happy ones, and a couple of them left me a blubbering mess, but I enjoyed the experience of listening to this book.

The audiobook was superbly narrated by Nancy Travis. I loved her!

Rating: 4¼ Stars

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