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Reviewed by Rebecca Berry
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up The Forgetting Tree. I’ve quickly learned that the blurbs on the back of a book, like the quotes they show on movie trailers, are often overstated; hand-picked to show only the few reviewers who found value in the movie.
The advance praise for The Forgetting Tree seemed to be of that nature – “An incredible book, richly imagined and beautifully written.” “Elegant and sensuous prose will keep you spellbound.” “…profoundly moving.” Would it live up to the glowing statements?
It has been a long time since a book so drew me in and made me think as much as The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli. It is a superb book, rich in imagery and delightful to read. In fact, rarely do I enjoy imagery as much as I did in this novel. And underneath all the exquisite descriptions are the dark undercurrents of the story itself: the disappearance of a young boy, the sudden emergence of cancer in a lonely woman’s life, and the mysterious, baffling woman who arrives on the scene as a caretaker.
Claire is a woman who has fought for and lived on her California citrus ranch ever since she married right out of college. As the daughter of immigrants she attaches great importance to the farm – her land, her home, her life. Even an unpredictable, tragic occurrence can’t pull Claire away from her land, leaving Claire behind as her family falls apart and runs away from her and the farm. When she is diagnosed with cancer fifteen years later she finds herself in a difficult predicament, trying to find a place to rest while in treatment but unwilling to leave the farm where she lives alone. Coincidence introduces her to Minna, and feeling an instant, mysterious connection with her, Claire decides to hire Minna to be her caretaker while in convalescence.
The character of Minna is an enigma throughout the book to those around her. We’re not quite sure about her, or about Claire’s need for her, but there is something about her that keeps us drawn in. Is she helping Claire or hurting her? Where does she come from? Why is she so reluctant to discuss her past? These questions are all answered by the end of the book, with the parallels between Claire’s life and Minna’s becoming clear.
At various times I felt confusion, frustration, and sympathy for Claire and Minna. The book is about these two women and the random chances of fate resulting in the very different forces that have shaped them. Despite their differences they both offer the other something that each needs, and through each other they are able to break ties with the pasts that haunt them.
The author states on her website that with this book she wanted to “explore the clash of cultures,” which she does with Claire and Minna. However, I found myself thinking about the author’s emphasis on home: How do you define your home? What ties you to home? What if home is a toxic place, like a cancer – can you survive without it? How do you destroy your home without destroying yourself in the process? Is that possible?
In all honesty, I feel as if I am struggling with this review, as there is so much more to unlock in this book than what I have already discovered. This book will be a book club’s paradise. It leaves us with much to discuss about the characters, their demons, and the actions that in the end may either save or destroy them all. It is a book that warrants another reading, and then another.
Claire is also a lover of books, and has an obsession with Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea; she reads it over and over again throughout her recovery. Similarly, I have the urge to reread this book to find the things I missed the first time through or forgot as I read on, that take on new meaning now that I know how the books ends. This beautiful and haunting book has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelf, and I look forward to returning to it again and again.
Also by Tatjana Soli: The Lotus Eaters
Rebecca is a stay at home mom and lives in Plain City, a sleepy little town in central Ohio, with her husband and young son. She enjoys cooking, eating, Zumba, crafting, and of course, reading!
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.