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The Syringa Tree

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  355 ratings  ·  79 reviews

In this heartrending and inspiring novel set against the gorgeous, vast landscape of South Africa under apartheid, award-winning playwright Pamela Gien tells the story of two families–one black, one white–separated by racism, connected by love.

Even at the age of six, lively, inquisitive Elizabeth Grace senses she’s a child of privilege, “a lucky fish.” Soothing her worrie

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Hardcover, 262 pages
Published June 27th 2006 by Random House (first published January 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 750)
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smetchie
This book is a beautiful love letter to Africa. A letter from a soul mate who knew it was all horribly flawed and it would never work out, but loved you deeply anyway. No description I can give will do it justice so I'll just leave a few pieces here to stand on their own.

"There was nothing gorgeous about Clova-except the feeling you had when you were there. It was just a simple place, a beloved refuge in the looming, graceful shadow of the Soutpansberg Mountains, five hours north of Johannesburg
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Carol
I struggled with the first 100 pages of this book. I have to be honest, I was ready to put it aside, but my book club colleague who had chosen the book urged me to stick with it. I was glad I did. A tale of apartheid in South Africa, Ms. Gien is at her best when the characters have dialogue. This may be due to the subject being a play the author first and then a novel. She seemed determined, in that first 100 pages, to describe to the smallest degree the setting, time and place as if it were sta ...more
Andie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Teresa

IT Ended up being a little hard to follow. It was well written and an interesting story. IT might be because it was a play first and then she turned it into a novel. Because of the flow of it I gave it three stars but these are the things I liked about it ... Also there is a glossary at the end. I wish I would have known that when I started it.


I just started this book and am only on page 50 but it is so descriptive I love it. I'm having some problems getting through all the South African terms b
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Sue
This is absolutely the best book I have read in a long time! It seemed to reach in and grab me and never let go. It's the story of South Africa in the 60's, as told through the eyes of a young white girl. It is the tragedy of apartheid and the triumph and strength of human spirit over the pain and despair. It is also the most honest book I have read about this time period in South Africa's history.

What I loved too was the memories it stirred up - the names of things I had long forgotten, the be
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Hulananni
I cried many time while reading "The Syringa Tree"...Africa retains a large piece of my heart after living there for 4 years. I left in 1985 to return to the US but that piece of my heart is still there and calls to me more strongly each year.

A novel filled with the reality of family lives during the era of apartheid: the loves, the losses, the hopes of all.

I read it on a NOOK so my tears didn't dampen the pages but they did fall.
Janine
The first 80 pages or so were tough for me to get through, and I almost decided to put it down and forget it. I read a review on here though that recommended sticking it out, and I'm glad I did. I do wish, however, that there had been some indication at the beginning of the book that there was a glossary in the back. It took me probably until about 70 pages or so into the book to realize it was there. There were a lot of words unfamiliar to me used, and it is one of the reasons I was getting fru ...more
Mary
An interesting story about growing up in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. Elizabeth Grace is the daughter of a doctor, Isaac, and a beautiful but depressed mother, Eugenie. She is cared for by a household of black servants, but especially Salamina. She is a privileged child, but not Afrikaans, so she is considered inferior to her next door neighbor Loeska and other blond, blue-eyed Afrikaans people. As laws segregating people become more strict, racial tensions accelerate and violence increa ...more
Nell
Exquisite. The syringa tree has different meanings and is used in different ways throughout the novel. Well-developed story told from the pov of a young Jewish girl growing up before and during Apartheid in South Africa. Her family is not Afrikaans, so she is not fully accepted but still privileged as a white person. There are so many dimensions to this tale: Lizzie's loving relationship with her nanny, Salamina and Salamina's daughter, Moliseng, whom it is her job to protect; her desire to be f ...more
Stacy
This is the beautifully-told, but painful, story of a family caught up in the pivotal time of change in South Africa. When external reality is painful, the little girl at the center of the story escapes into the syringa tree. As the tyrany of apartheid grows, she finds others escape there, too -- black South Africans scramble up into the sheltering branches in flight from the searchlights of the police. The parents and grandparents in this story, based on the author's own family, are truly admir ...more
Jeane
I received this book as a present from my sister and had no idea why she gave it to me. I chose it as my book to read on the train to work, but without much interest.
It isn't one of those books that I suprisingly love but the story and the way it was written was enjoyable.
The girl Elizabeth was, her thoughts, family and what she experienced in life were written in a not boring, read it already way. This story is about Afrika, just before the Apartheir started to be mentioned. And even though the
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Angie Palau
LOVED it.

What a remarkable tale of growing up in South Africa during apartheid... it inspired me to research the history of South Africa (at a Wikipedia level, for the moment, but perhaps at a Michener level soon ;) And by the way, apartheid only ended in 1994. Good grief; I'm embarrassed I wasn't absolutely incensed throughout my life, but instead I was blissfully ignorant in that my-goodness-that's-far-away-and-foreign kind of way).

I find myself thinking about this book regularly, which is, t
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Deon Stonehouse
The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien is set in South Africa during apartheid. Lizzy’s Dad is a doctor with an office that serves whites in the front waiting room and blacks in the back, an arraignment distasteful to the kind man. Lizzy is nurtured by Salmina, a servant in the household, adored by her grandparents who live on a remote farm and held in the bosom of her family. Lizzy is delighted when Salmina has a baby, Moliseng, and she is put in charge of keeping the baby hidden. Salmina has a permit ...more
Sherelyn Ernst
This is one of those books where you think, amazing story, amazing place, evocative writing--so why do I feel so bad? Gien does such a good job of making the reader feel the dread and fear and beauty and ugliness of growing up in South Africa during apartheid that I was tempted to put it down. But I didn't, I'm glad I didn't, and you should read it. It's a fascinating read about a fascinating (but painful) time. And, of course, we know that things do improve for some. Others become statistics an ...more
Amy
~ Hard to get into
~ Told mostly from the perspective of a 6-year old girl in South Africa during the 1960s. Follows her as she grows and into the future.
Gauri
I first read this book in high school and have read it about a half-dozen times since. There is not one time (even though I know exactly what is about to happen) that the it does not bring tears to my eyes. And I am definitely NOT the type of person who usually cries at books or movies. Elegant writing, complex heroine, essential cast of supporting characters and a love story for a homeland that is imperfect, but still home.

I would recommend this to (young) women, anyone who has every left a cou
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Jennifer
Not written for an American audience
The language was difficult to understand because of the different dialect. There is a glossary at the back of the book which most of us didn't discover until we'd already struggled through most of the story. And as one member of my book club pointed out, there is a problem if they have to put a glossary at the back of the book. The narrator is unconvincing as a six year old girl. The writing is very random and sporadic. The book is full of non-essential charac
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Stephanie
Although this book started off rather slowly, and I wasn't sure that I would get into it, I did find myself liking it about halfway through. Elizabeth is a young white girl in South Africa, whose family employs black servants, and is in the midst of new government and apartheid. It was very interesting to hear her point of view, as a child, and then how she finally gives up on South Africa and emigrates after university. One aspect that really turned me off at the beginning of the book was Gien ...more
Doreen
I thought this book was beautifully written. The narrator is six year old Elizabeth Grace and the author captures the voice very well with all the magical thinking that is part of childhood. The setting is South Africa during the 6o's and through the various characters white and black we are given the story of the struggles of the country. Thanks to my sister Marlene who gave this book such a good rating that I was encouraged to pick it up. It isn't often that a book brings me to tears, but this ...more
Donna Barnes
This is my 4th book I read this year (2011) and I read it for book club. Would have rather read the play --- first 100 pages were tough to get into --- not a lot of action, and I think the play would have had more action ---overly descriptive, tree images are nice . They hid blacks in the tree (title) nice relationship between little girl and her nanny Sallamina, and I liked the ending --- shows the Brits are in the middle between blacks and whites (apartheid in Africa) --- book takes place in J ...more
Melissa Petruzzello
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Betty
Another book group selection and, with the exception of one person, we all hated this book. It was an Oprah Book Club choice at one time, and we normally don't chose those. But this book was highly recommended. Oprah described it as "inspiring and uplifting". I must say that this was one of the most depressing books that I have read in ages and I only finished it because it was for my book group. If there was anything "uplifting" in this book, for the life of me I don't know what it could have b ...more
Sarah
Apr 14, 2008 Sarah rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sarah by: Elyse
I loved the idea of this book--a novel told from the perspective of a 6-year old girl in 1960's South Africa--but I had a hard time really getting into it. It may have been that I read it during a time when I had a lot on my mind, or it may have been the wandering style in which it's written, but I often found myself distracted from the words on the page. The setting was great and the novel offered some interesting historial insight but overall, I found the plot a bit lacking. It was good, just ...more
Chriser123 Dittman
Nite Book Club - This is a wonderful book about Apartheid in South Africa. The story is told by a small white child who sees what happens to the black servants and people in her town. The first time novel is well written by Gien, telling her story thru a child, Elizabeth. She tells her story as a child would, not always seeing the whole picture and then changing to another problem without finishing the present one. I loved reading this book and hope to read more of her work in the future.
asra
Jul 06, 2007 asra rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
Set in South Africa and told through the eyes of a little white girl. The backdrop of the story is set in times before and after apartheid, but it concentrates on ordinary relationships between black and white people. Because it’s told through a child’s point of view, the language can be playful (and for this reason sometimes annoying). But more often, descriptions are thorough and comment on the social dynamics of that period. There are better novels out there about apartheid issues.
Beth
3.5 stars for a book that was poignant and sad and beautifully written. I would love to see the one-woman staging of the play, and maybe give this another re-read when I'm in the right place for it.
Betty
Before I found the glossary at the back of the book, the terminology used was difficult for me to understand. However this novel was inspiring because I learned things about Africa that I did not know before. It is a story about two families, one black and the other one white. They were separated by racism in the era of apartheid. Even though it is a novel, Nelson Mandela and his imprisonment is partially told in this story. As I read the end of this book, it was through tears.
Shelly Busse
The first 100 pages or so of this book were a bit monotonous which made it easy to put the book down. It finally got interesting at about 150 pages. Would I recommend this book….umm, probably not, even though
I gave it 3 stars.

If you like books about South Africa, then I would recommend two books (true stories) by Alexandra Fuller, "Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight" and "Cocktail Hour Under The Tree Of Forgetfulness".
Nancy Mcdaniel
I didn't think that the play could be improved upon and was a bit skeptical about a novel - that it might be overkill and "dead space". Wrong. It filled in some of the backstory and added details. I found myself loving it when I recognized lines right out of the play. If you are interested at all in growing up in South Africa under apartheid and coming out on the other side, this is a lovely read.
Nancy Brady
A story of a family living in South Africa during the time of civil unrest/apartheid. Salamina and Elizabeth have a special relationship that becomes even more special when her daughter Moliseng is born. Without the proper papers (pass), Moliseng must be kept hidden from all eyes and it is Elizabeth's job to do that. As Elizabeth grows up, tensions develop and friends are lost. A decent read.
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