Author: Flora Ahn
I really don’t have the words for this one. I just want to gush on and on about all the feelings The Golden Orchard evoked and that perfect line it walked between nostalgia and hope.
It begins with Maya, a teenage girl, on a hot summer day, listlessly lying around. Her grandmother, Halmunee, has recently moved in with Maya and her never-there, career-oriented, family-phobic mother. Halmunee is slowly progressing into dementia, but she still has her good days and wants to share her secret and her life with Maya through cooking – only not in the way you expect.
It turns out that Halmunee can actually step into the future by using the savory flavor of her traditional Korean food to bring back memories so powerful that they pull her (and whomever she chooses) back in time. In this way, Maya starts to piece together her family’s history and renews the search for her enigmatic father.
With Halmunee steadily succumbing to dementia, Maya must learn how to use food to travel back in time and find answers. Little does she expect that she will also encounter a young man (Jeff) who can also walk the halls of time. Jeff takes Maya to a magnificent orchard where past and present, memory and humanity, touch, and that is only the beginning of an incredible journey that is about family, mistakes, love, the past, and moving on.
The Golden Orchard is an Audible original that I download over a year ago. It has since been languishing in my ever growing Audible library, and with some spring cleaning came the determination to slowly listen through everything I had downloaded, oldest to newest. That’s when I literary feel in love with Flora Ahn’s beautiful story and started looking for a print version because this needs to be in my library forever. Sadly, a print version doesn’t exist, but I remain hopeful.
The story is short, but powerful. It begins by using the fantastical – a fairly well structured time travel MO – to look at the beauty of family, showing one generation sharing with the next. It appears, at first, that this then will be a story about everything we take for granted, but it ends up being so much more. It’s a story about loss and hope, family and falling away, but it’s also a fairytale about time and possibilities, as well as priorities and misunderstandings.
The Golden Orchard is told in a fun way with a lot of brand new imagery. The orchard is the most enjoyable aspect of the story, as is the enigmatic keeper who tends the towering trees, each of which represents a life, filled with gems shaped like fruits that contain memories and emotions. It’s an evocative way to showcase interconnection and the tendrils of a life, how they merge and overlap and bend.
The only problem is the usual one: time travel quickly gets messy. The book mostly keeps it cleanly laid out. The characters can watch their past memories, even move around in them, but they cannot change things that have already happened or interact with anyone (including themselves) from the past. They also cannot jump forward in time . . . or, can they? In that last moment, with the final twist, the story becomes confusing and while the ending is satisfying, because we love Maya, Jeff, and Halmunee now, it doesn’t bear a very close examination. But the feelings – oh the feelings! I took this book everywhere, squeezing in each minute to listen to just a bit more. And so, five starts, because I can’t give ten. Download this immediately, start looking into some delicious Korean recipes, and get ready to travel to an orchard outside of time.
– Frances Carden
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