A Single Rose

Europa. Sept. 2021. 160p. ISBN 9781609456771. $22; pap. ISBN 9781913547110. $18.95. F
In the opening pages of this latest novel from French author Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog), Rose wakes up in her father’s house in Kyoto, Japan, where she has come to hear the reading of his will. Raised by her mother and grandmother in Europe, Rose never met her father, a wealthy, well-known art dealer. Yet though he is dead, Rose’s father controls her entire experience in Kyoto. Guided by his assistant Paul, a widower from Belgium, Rose visits temples, gardens, tea rooms, and restaurants to better understand her father and his country. As a botanist, she especially embraces the region’s flowers. Each chapter begins with a Japanese parable that is brought to life through Rose’s explorations of the city and encounters with those closest to her father. While her relationship with Paul begins shakily (he refers to her several times as a “pain in the ass”), they eventually fall in love.
VERDICT Barbery takes risks in creating a self-involved and somewhat irritating main character. Yet with elegant and careful prose, she offers descriptions of Kyoto and Japanese culture that transcend the genre of a travelogue. This novel will appeal to readers who long for happy endings and escape.
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