Cutting Back is a memoir written by Leslie Buck who left behind her life in California to learn the art of pruning in Kyoto, Japan. She had the opportunity to learn from professionals in one of Kyoto’s most renowned companies and as unconventional as it was for a westerner and a woman to accompany these professionals, she travels to a new country, adopting new customs eager to learn.
I am not particularly interested in gardening in any way, I struggle to keep the simplest of plants alive but I have to be honest and say that I really enjoyed this book. I am a fan of reading books set in other countries because I enjoy learning about new cultures and customs and this book did not disappoint. I was intrigued to see the life that Leslie had ahead of her for four months in Japan, the slightest customs of greetings and how you speak to someone superior to you which could be from an employer to someone of the opposite sex.
I hadn’t realised before just how taboo it was to have a westerner in Japan let alone one following professional pruners in a male dominant profession. One part of the book she talks about working in the garden of a restaurant and how the customers came out afterwards to stare at her unusual circumstances. Not only that but I hadn’t fully understood the level of patriarchy still present in Japan during the time of Leslie’s stay, she had many customs to adopt from movements to glances to speech depending on who she was speaking to and where.
I had always known that a Japanese garden was a place of pride and beauty but before this book I didn’t have an appreciation for the work that went into keeping them. The amount of time that is taken and the detail in making the garden look natural and untouched by modernity is astonishing. From the soft soles of the uniforms shoes to protect the moss to washing every pebble in a stream by hand I couldn’t get over the precise and time consuming methods. Reading that it can take more than 15 years to specialise in this area was mind-blowing and in a way humbling to know that something in the western world such as gardening can be learned from one day on the job yet in Japan they take pride and time to perfect the skill.
Cutting Back was an easy to read book with fast paced and conversational writing. It would be easy to read in a handful of sittings as Leslie’s voice transports the reader on a cultural journey across Kyoto’s most well-known gardens. I particularly enjoyed the sections of the book when she would visit famous gardens and describe the serenity and losing herself in the beauty of nature as it really magnified how so much of the natural world has been lost to modern society.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley so I’d like to thank them for giving me the opportunity to read this book. Overall I feel it was a 4 out of 5 on Goodreads because it was well written, engaging and a great read. Definitely worth picking up even if you aren’t interested in gardening as this was just as much a cultural adventure than anything.