The Garden of Words

The Garden of Words cover

story by Makoto Shinkai; art by Midori Motohashi

A boy in his first year of high school takes shelter on days when it rains in a park gazebo. He sketches shoes and dreams of being a designer of ladies’ footwear. His family is moving apart without him, with his mother spending her time with a younger boyfriend and his big brother moving in with his girlfriend.

On those mornings when he goes to the park, he has company — an older woman playing hooky from work who drinks beer and eats chocolate in the shelter. They strike up a conversation, and he finds himself able to share things with her no one else in his life wants to hear. She seems intrigued by someone who’s still got future choices ahead of him, as a way of escaping her own worries.

Either that description intrigues you, or you’re thinking, “and? what do they DO?” If the latter better fits you, I don’t think this is the story for you, because I found the appeal of The Garden of Words to be in its creation of mood. It’s a comfortable thing to read curled up indoors, safe from the weather.

The Garden of Words cover

The events it portrays are necessarily transitory, with its pages capturing life-changing moments bound to end. The two, mismatched as they are, find inspiration in each other temporarily. I found myself thinking about people I’d barely known who still had an influence on my life, about being open to interactions with other people, about how memories become connected to places and moments and elements like the weather.

The one thing that occasionally marred my entering into the poetic dream was the lettering. It’s computerized, and there are times when the words don’t fit the original balloons, bumping up against the edges or parsed into breaks that don’t match English phrasing. It doesn’t aim for elegance the same way the other elements of the book do.

Also typical of Vertical manga, there are no translation notes, so I had to look up what a tanka (similar to a haiku) was. One of these classical poems plays a substantial role in the underlying theme and provides a hint as to why she’s not going to work. Her past dovetails surprisingly with his motivations.

The Garden of Words is a lovely stand-alone story that I suspect one can come to at different times in one’s life and find different sympathies and resonances.

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