The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli
St. Martin's Press, 2012
Fiction; 416 pgs
I have put off writing this review for days now, unsure about what to say or even how to start. Tatjana Soli's writing is exquisite. Imagine sitting comfortably in a boat on a calm lake, drifting freely. When I sat down to read her book, I lost all sense of time and place--I was transported into the pages and onto a citrus farm in Southern California.
It is near impossible to describe this book. I hadn't read anything about it before going into it. Having read and loved the author's book, The Lotus Eaters, two years ago, I knew I had to read The Forgetting Tree as soon as it came out. What little I did know about the book was that it would be an emotional read. I just didn'r realize how much so. Per the author's website:
When Claire Nagy marries Forster Baumsarg, the only son of prominent California citrus ranchers, she knows she's consenting to a life of hard work, long days, and worry-fraught nights. But her love for Forster is so strong, she turns away from her literary education and embraces the life of the ranch, succumbing to its intoxicating rhythms and bounty until her love of the land becomes a part of her. Not even the tragic, senseless death of her son Joshua at kidnappers' hands, her alienation from her two daughters, or the dissolution of her once-devoted marriage can pull her from the ranch she's devoted her life to preserving.
But despite having survived the most terrible of tragedies, Claire is about to face her greatest struggle: An illness that threatens not only to rip her from her land but take her very life. And she's chosen a caregiver, the enigmatic Caribbean-born Minna, who may just be the darkest force of all.
Haunting, tough, triumphant, and profound, The Forgetting Tree explores the intimate ties we have to one another, the deepest fears we keep to ourselves, and the calling of the land that ties every one of us together.
Having grown up in California most of my life, it isn't too hard to imagine the place Soli writes about. I imagine my husband would have an even better picture of it--his grandparents having orchards of their own at one time. The land can be bountiful and beautiful and yet harsh just the same. I can see why Claire would be attracted to the life she chose. And I could relate to Claire's desire to put down roots, to settle down in one place and make it more than just a home. After the death of her son, the land took on a different meaning--its hold on her even stronger. For others in her family, it had the opposite effect, causing them to want to get away. Tragedy affects us all in different ways. Tatjana Soli captures that well in her novel.
One of the elements that touched me the most was Claire's relationship with her daughters, particularly after she was diagnosed with cancer. The physical distance between them--as well as the emotional. It made me long for my own mother and wish I didn't live so far away from her. In some ways, I could relate to Claire's daughter Gwen, busy with her own life--and it made me sad.
I thought I knew what book I was reading, but then Minna walked into the picture and everything changed. I felt the lure of her just as surely as Claire did, mesmerized by her story--her character. Not quite sure if she was exactly who she said she was, knowing she had her secrets and wondering how that would play out. The author was so subtle in her approach to this particular part of the book. Minna and Claire--their relationship, Claire's illness--I was witnessing first hand as their story unfolded. Scared, sad, angry, and confused. I felt what the characters were feeling.
Soli has a way of getting to the heart of the matter, bringing her characters deepest emotions and darkest secrets to the surface. They are often raw and heart wrenching. It was no different in The Forgetting Tree. I wasn't sure I would be able to get far in the book initially, the sadness in the book soaking into my pores. I'm not exactly in a place right now where reading sad books is such a good idea.
And yet . . . And yet the beauty of the writing. The characters. I couldn't put the book down. I wanted to--needed to--know more. Claire is such an interesting character. There is no simple way to describe her. Just as there is no easy way to describe dear Minna, whose own story is heartbreaking and powerful. The climax of the novel itself was powerful and moving.
Least you think the book was all sadness, it wasn't. There was an undercurrent of hope and strength that shined through now and then. And in the end.
I walked away from this book not sure how I felt about it. Did I like it? I knew I loved the writing. The story left me in a thoughtful place for several days after I finished it. And really, until sitting down to write this review, I still wasn't sure. The Forgetting Tree moved me and was another reminder of why I love reading so much.
To learn more about Tatjana Soli and her books, please visit the author's website.
I hope you will check out what others had to say about The Forgetting Tree on the TLC Book Tours route!
Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Copy of The Forgetting Tree provided by publisher.