I received a copy of The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown in exchange for an honest review.
High in the hills of Valencia, a forgotten house guards its secrets. Untouched since Franco’s forces tore through Spain in 1936, the whitewashed walls have crumbled, the garden, laden with orange blossom, grown wild. Emma Temple is the first to unlock its doors in seventy years. Guided by a series of letters and a key bequeathed in her mother’s will, she has left her job as London’s leading perfumier to restore this dilapidated villa to its former glory. It is the perfect retreat: a wilderness redolent with strange and exotic scents, heavy with the colours and sounds of a foreign time. But for her grandmother, Freya, a British nurse who stayed here during Spain’s devastating civil war, Emma’s new home evokes terrible memories. As the house begins to give up its secrets, Emma is drawn deeper into Freya’s story: a story of crushed idealism, of lost love, and of families ripped apart by war. She soon realises it is one thing letting go of the past, but another when it won’t let go of you.
Kate Lord Brown struck internationally bestselling gold with The Perfume Garden, and it is no wonder why. This book is hauntingly beautiful in its writing and content, the structure of the book an allegory for life. I almost gave up reading in Chapter 7, without giving away too much, the date reads London, September 11, 2001. As a native New Yorker just the dread of the date was enough to close the book, but Brown’s…I pause even as I write this, it’s still difficult 14 years later… Brown’s use of the day and its events in this poignant story remind me that we live in a global world and devastation is a shared emotion. But this book is not about devastation or war, although those two themes are pervasive. Rather this book is about redemption, love and liberty—that elusive idea of personal freedom, the emancipation of the self. And in her writing Brown dares us all to face the ugly, devastating—the unspeakable—and defy it, simply by living, by taking the time to smell the roses.
Kate Lord Brown strikes a chord that makes “heartstrings crack.” My heart breaks for Emma over and over, my heart breaks for myself, for all those still in the midst of the sorrow. And yet, through the heartbreak, generations upon generations of disappointment, there is something of light here if you can just keep going. Can you just keep going?
The Perfume Garden is not a light or quick read. It requires a certain fortitude and determination to see the story to the end. Kate Lord Brown does not make the reading easy, but it is all the more reward to turn the final page and discover, perhaps, for yourself, a new beginning.
Inspired and inspiring, I wish I could give this book higher marks.
(If you are a lover of stories like Eat, Pray, Love and Under the Tuscan Sun—as I am—this is an absolute must read!)
Rating: 5 stars