The Garden Secret

A dogged heroine struggles to untangle herself from the mysterious Vine.

In her debut novelDaughters of the Wild, Natalka Burian crafts a tale of magical realism mixed with a woman’s determination to control her own life. Inspired by a very old, mysterious text filled with an unidentified language and illustrations of plants not found on earth — the Voynich Manuscript — the author built her story around an invented, otherworldly plant, the Vine of Heaven.

Joanie, a young mother, and her five foster siblings — Emil, 5; Miracle, 8; Sabina, 13; Marcela, 16; and Cello, 17 — live in a West Virginia trailer close to the Garden. That they were all adopted legally is the only thing in their lives that’s lawful. Although adults Sil and Letta are guardians, the children care for themselves, along with caring for the Vine. Their sole mission is to tend its soil and harvest its heaven-sent bounty.

Although males Sil, Cello, and Emil all work at the Garden, it is a connection to women that the Vine requires, as it has for the last 100 years. Upon puberty, the girls begin to perform the Work — a monthly ritual of fertilizing the Vine’s soil with their menstrual blood and other bodily fluids.

Sil and Letta don’t discuss what the owner of the Garden compound — Mother Joseph — does with the reaped Vine, only that its healthy harvest is of the utmost importance, even above the health of those who care for it. But the older children suspect that the Josephs use the Vine to satisfy their greed. According to Cello:

“They’d never made the connection from the work they did in the garden to the empty-eyed tenants who waited by the Joseph compound gate. Could there really be such dark, addictive power in it, such shadowy value?”

Burian explains that the Vine is symbolic, representing “the unknown and the things we as human beings cannot inherently control. I think the Vine is also a symbol of power and potential, and one that the protagonist, Joanie, uses as almost a template as she develops her own power.”

Read the rest of my article at Washington Independent Review of Books.

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