Book Reviews: ‘Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening’ and ‘The Light of the World’

Book Reviews by Cos Barnes

book mister gardeningAt first, you may think “Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening,” a memoir by Carol Wall, is Polly Anna-ish, but as I read deeper, I found I envied the relationship that was building between Owita and Wall. Giles Owita is an immigrant from Kenya who has an undiscussed education in other subjects but is an expert at gardening, and Wall, a high school English teacher and freelance writer with no desire for digging in the dirt. At fist, she abhors azaleas.

Owita teaches Wall to appreciate how flowers enhance her yard, previously an eyesore and the bane of the neighbors. He shows her how to prune a tree in spite of her “book learning” about such things. In fact, when he prunes a river birch and the light comes through, the book takes a different turn for me. He is as eloquent with words as he is with tools.

Through their conversations, they share family and health burdens as a life-changing friendship develops and the story unfolds.

book light of the world“The Light of the World” is a love story, but it is much more than that. Elizabeth Alexander’s tribute to her husband encompasses all the aspects of a marriage. Alexander pens a memoir that is heartwrenching, yet candid, sorrowful and joyful.

Her husband, Ficre, a chef and renowned artist, dies suddenly, leaving her with two young sons to raise. She is a poet and a professor at Yale University and read a poem at Barack Obama’s last inauguration.

Ficre was a native Eritrean who survived the civil war in east Africa. Alexander shares all the precious moments of their marriage: the deepest grief, the joys of their union, the trips they took with the sons, the guests that visited their home and their careers. Ficre’s sudden death is a shock to the survivors. Alexander listens to her sons talk about their love for their father and their pain from not having him with them. This book is a bittersweet testament to the reality of facing loss and carrying on.