switterbug (Betsey)'s Reviews > The Forgetting Tree

The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli
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's review
Jul 20, 2012

it was amazing
Read in July, 2012

This complex, mystifying, and terrifying novel begins very simply, with spare prose and a story of tragedy that strikes the family members of a 580-acre citrus ranch--the violent loss of a beloved son and brother.

Claire is a literary intellect from a scholarly family, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants, who falls in love with Forster, the son of German immigrants and a man of the land, a citrus farmer in California. Claire grows to understand the land, and to subsequently love the farm, to feel sewn and hewn to it, especially after the death of their son, Josh. Their daughters, Gwen and Lucy, take different paths, and try to talk their mother into selling the land after the harrowing events that changed their lives forever.

The first part of the book didn't thoroughly draw me in. The tragedy/history was told in a stilted voice that removed me from the emotions and drama of the story at hand. However, once Claire hires an enigmatic and beautiful caregiver, Minna, a Caribbean woman who tells them that she is the great granddaughter of novelist Jean Rhys, both the prose and the plot develop with a stunning complexity, taking on a deeper patina, with a sinister and menacing tug at its center, as well as a profound and intricate force of beautiful narrative expression.

After the prosaic and somewhat sterile first half, the second half demonstrates that Soli's plotting and voice was a stylistic choice--deliberate, measured, finely tuned. The latter 200 pages were exceptionally imaginative, with resinous scenes and psychologically brilliant portrayals and insights. By the end of the story, I was gasping, and my heart was both engorged and impaled by the events, and Soli's writing. By the time I was in section III (out of IV), I knew I was in the hands of a masterful, labyrinthine writer, who combined aspects of gothic, folk, and historical writing into a dramatic and sometimes surreal saga.

How synchronous that I would read two books in a row about the passion and vicissitudes of farming an extensive orchard, the first being THE ORCHARDIST, by Amanda Coplin. Both novels explore themes of reverence and fealty to the land, and both have a middle-aged protagonist who invites an unknowable stranger(s) into his/her life, and grow to love them like daughters, and suffer great torment from the darkness of haunting pasts.

Lyrical and hypnotic, Soli's writing will keep you fastened to the story and characters. The relationship between Minna and Claire is unique and moving--as unforgettable as the "forgetting" lemon tree that is the touchstone of the orchard and the leitmotif of the novel's core paradoxical theme.

"...an unheard of thing happened in the orchard...the leaves on the citrus turned a burnt yellow...clung on for over a month, fresh and pliable and yellowed, then overnight every single one fell to the ground. A gold carpet upon which stood a barren stick forest. The bark turned hard as iron...

"The orchard's shock deeply moved Claire, as if the land itself had turned sentient, mirroring her belief that the only true love is the one tested...the land reached out to her, and she accepted...she'd survived, her son had not."
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Lewis (new) - added it

Lewis Weinstein If the book is as well written as the review, it will be a terrific read.

message 3: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes A bountiful crop indeed

switterbug (Betsey) Thank you os much, Will!

Kate I have not finished the novel yet, so thanks for a non-spoiling but encouraging review! I will finish, but so far not too excited about the novel. It was a book club choice that I missed because of traveling.!So also missed the discussion.

switterbug (Betsey) Keep going, Kate. Let me know what you think by the end. It does get so much better as it progresses.

message 7: by Writing (new) - added it

Writing I agree with Lewis!! Also, have you written a novel or short story collection ? I'm ready to put your work on my to-read list. Keep those reviews coming.

switterbug (Betsey) Thank you, Writing! I wish I could write fiction, but, alas, it takes a lot out of me to just write ABOUT fiction. :)

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