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Reading Zen in the Rocks: The Japanese Dry Landscape Garden

Reading Zen in the Rocks: The Japanese Dry Landscape Garden
François Berthier
University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 166 p., $14.00

Gardens of East Asia have long fascinated Westerners. The Zen dry gardens of Japan are particularly intriguing, with their natural stones set upon small oceans of sand. Free of most vegetation, their asymmetrical, sparse design sparks the curiosity of travelers from other lands. French historian François Berthier provides an insightful discussion of their history and composition in this book, translated by Graham Parkes. An additional bonus to the text is a philosophical essay by the translator entitled, “The Role of Rock in the Japanese Dry Landscape Garden.”

With roots in China, the landscape garden styles that developed in Japan evolved over centuries of gardening. The author tells how the masterful planning of the Zen style garden gradually moved from monks to the lowest classes in the medieval society. Less influenced by the existing aesthetic rules, common laborers fashioned masterful works of art that challenged accepted practices of design. Black and white photographs of extant gardens and classic landscape and portrait paintings of the period illustrate the text. A chronology of Japanese garden development and bibliographic references are useful to those who wish to study the subject further. Highly recommended for both its scholarship and literary style, this book should please both professionals and visitors to Japan. Its lightweight, compact size makes it ideal travel reading.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden