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BOOK REVIEW:

Fresh water for flowers

Writer Valérie Perrin portrays her main character, Violette Toussaint, as someone who has found her true calling in life. She is the caretaker of a cemetery in a small town in France, where she makes the arrangements for funerals and religious services for the deceased and their family.   Among the many ironies, in this tender novel, is the life of Violette Toussaint. Until finding this job, her previous experiences in life have been harsh, tenuous, and definitely heart-and-spirit breaking. She was abandoned at birth and sent to live with foster families who neglected her emotionally; teased by schoolmates and other children; and consistently underestimated by most people, who never imagined that she could be of any use to anyone in life--least of all to herself.  Violette is even abandoned by the older man she married as a teenager, but she prevails, raising her young daughter, who develops her own curiosity and delight with all aspects of life..  The town's people have ambivalent thoughts and feelings about this cemetery caretaker. They depend upon her to oversee the physical maintenance of the cemetery, call upon her when someone dies, and rely upon her to do all of this with care and compassion. Anything to do with death is deemed odd, and they find her positive, even cheerful, attitude at odds with all of it. Only someone who had been treated so badly, and had a natural core of goodness, would fully understand the need to comfort those left behind when their nearest and dearest dies.

Violette's life has a regularity about it that is uneventful and satisfying. Her expectations are clear and direct, at the end of the day: "I feel like being alone. Like every evening. Speak to no one. Read, listen to the radio, take a bath. Close the shutters. Wrap myself in a pink silk kimono. Just feel good. Once the gates have been shut, time belongs to me. I am its owner. It is a luxury to be the owner of one's time. I think it is one of the greatest luxuries human beings can afford themselves."

All of this changes when a stranger appears with an unusual request for dealing with his dead mother's ashes.  This sets off a series of events that peel back layers of Violette’s former life, which are poignant, funny, and reveal mysteries and secrets that were perhaps best left buried. Valérie Perrin’s portrayal of Violette speaks out to those who do not quite fit in with other people's conventions. These "others" are often regarded suspiciously, even though they have done nothing wrong. In addition, she has created a cast of other unique individuals, and a plot that is life-affirming and joyous, despite having a cemetery as its main setting.

It was my pleasure and honor to represent the Los Angeles Public Public in nominating this novel for The Dublin Literary Award. Fresh Water for Flowers was part of the long list, but not the short list. I highly recommend checking in, on May 19, 2022, to The Dublin Literary Award's website, for the announcement of this year's honored writer. This award deserves more attention, and in coming weeks I will provide more information about The Dublin Literary Award and my involvement with it

 

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