I have read a number of Valente's works and really enjoyed them all. This book was no exception; it is beautifully written and reminds more of poetry than a traditional story at times.
This book tells the story of a women who has fled a village when it was invaded and chosen to live the life of a hermit on a mountain. She lives in a pagoda, an old temple, on the mountain and learns lessons from the river and the gate. She is very old and at times had trouble separating dream and reality; the villagers of the village below think she is a ghost and bring offerings to her.
The beautiful descriptions and lyrical phrases in this book are outstanding. As always I am blown away by the poetic quality of Valente's writing. She is able to create wonderful imagery of both beautiful and violent things.
This book won't be for everyone; as with her book Labyrinth, the story is vague and at times it is hard to tell what is reality and what is dream...but then that is kind of the point. If you like easy to read stories, with clear-cut plots this isn't the book for you. If you don't mind vagueness and enjoy poetry you will love the lyrical quality and beauty of this book.
The book ties together a number of themes. There is a Japanese overtone to it, Babylonian creation myths are included, and theories of quantum physics are touched on. I know it sounds odd, but for this book it really works. There are also illustrations throughout, which is something new for Valente and I enjoyed those as well.
Overall another outstanding book from Valente. I love the poetry of her written and the way she makes lush descriptions of everything with analogies. The story is vague and dreamy, so it is not for everyone. If you like poetry and if you don't mind vagueness I recommend you pick this up. If you have enjoyed Valente's previous works I also recommend you pick this up.