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The Trees

(The Awakening Land #1)

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  3,436 ratings  ·  348 reviews
The Trees is a moving novel of the beginning of the American trek to the west. Toward the close of the eighteenth century, the land west of the Alleghenies and north of the Ohio River was an unbroken sea of trees. Beneath them the forest trails were dark, silent, and lonely, brightened only by a few lost beams of sunlight. Here, in the first novel of Conrad Richter's Awake ...more
Paperback, 167 pages
Published May 1st 1991 by Ohio University Press (first published 1940)
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When a man gets it into his head to move west, there's not much a body can do to stop him. Even if it means dragging the whole, dirt-poor family from Pennsylvania to Ohio through woods so deep one can't see the sky till the trees release their cargo come winter. Such a place belongs to the wild creatures who roam, not families with young 'uns. But from now on his dank, black, mossy world will be called home, and it doesn't do any one a lick of good to look behind.

The story begins abruptly and th
Clif Hostetler
This is a novel about the American frontier at a time in the late eighteenth century in eastern Ohio when the first settlers were beginning to trickle in from the states east of the Alleghenies. Although it is a time that is long gone, it is still part of the American imagined identity as rugged individualists making something out of untamed wilderness. It was a time when the land north of the Ohio River was an unbroken sea of trees which created a world of dark first trails brightened only by a ...more
Jan 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Favorite book(s) of all time. Beautifully written in poetic style using authentic dialog and well researched stories/attitudes/implements/activities of the time. Great record of westward progress, how it happened and the forces that drove it.This book stands alone, but is great with the other two books in the Awakening Land series. Get a personal view of progress from wilderness living to town living in the same location. Subtly raises questions about whether the europeans ruined the indians, wh ...more

In the primeval forests of the Ohio Valley the trees stood dense, ancient, massive. From spring to late fall almost no light penetrated the depths of these forests.
Here the trees had been old men with beards when the woods in Pennsylvania were still whips....Down in Pennsylvania you could tell by the light. When a faint white drifted through the dark forest wall ahead, you knew you were getting to the top of a hill or an open place....But away back here across the Ohio, it had no fields. You tr
Nov 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Richter's writing brought to mind the rhythms and cadences of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's The Yearling -- a pure reading of the time and state, without one glimmer of the revisionist's eye.

The novel enveloped me in the pioneering world of 1790, middle America, and I did not emerge until it rung its last stroke of the axe, as the clearings began to show face in the crowded landscape of trees. It felt to me a most accurate representation of what pioneering must have truly been like -- bugs, and li
Dec 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A gritty, adult version of "Little House in the Big Woods". The Ingalls-Wilder books are
narrated from the innocence of childhood with the realities and horrors of frontier life kept at arm's length or out of sight altogether and the family proverb "all's well that ends well" a comforting
refrain. Not so of Richter's The Trees. Published in the early 40's, it's the story of the Luckett family who move from the sunny, relative safety of Pennsylvania to the deep woods of Northwest territory in searc
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this award winning work of fiction, on pioneering the Ohio river region, a number of years ago.

I remember both the writing and story telling as excellent. A cautionary note — this book is highly anachronistic, as in it felt like it was written in 1900 about events 100 years earlier than that. Actually it was written in 1950.

3.0 to 4.5 stars depending on one’s preference for older books about even older topics.
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is the first in a trilogy about several generations of a family settling the western territories in the 19th century. This one is set in the early decades of that century. As it opens, a young family is living in a remote wooded area, fearful of the Dakotas, their only neighbors, and living almost exclusively on wild game. As it ends, the young children are getting married, beginning to clear land to plant crops and forming community with white neighbors. This gives a realistic portrayal of ...more
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Trees is easily one of my top five favorite books I've ever read. Richter was living in New Mexico when a neighbor gave him a 1600 page history (journals and stories) of the pioneers of the Ohio River Valley. He took his characters, the way they speak, their way of life, from actual living people. That is what made this book for me - every moment rang true. In the beginning, the Luckett family is making their way west from Pennsylvania because the husband/father, Worth, thinks Pennsylvania i ...more
Sep 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is another classic American pioneer saga originally published in 1940. It tells the story of a family who leaves Pennsylvania in the late 1700s because the country is facing a "woods famine" (a year of poor hunting). They move west, cross the Ohio River, and settle in the deep forests of that territory.

One of my favorite things about this novel is the language. There were so many words I didn't know that must come from vernacular. Some I could figure out from context; others still puzzle me
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Trees is Conrad Richter's first novel in "The Awakening Land" trilogy: he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1951 for his third novel in the series, The Town.

Trees came highly recommended by my friend Charles, who has dependably shared my taste in movies and books, and hit a home run last year with his recommendations Lucifer's Hammer and The Mote in God's Eye.

"Conrad Richter? The guy who wrote The Light in the Forest?" I asked doubtfully. I had read The Light in the Forest in the sixth grade, and ha
In later years when it was all to go so that her own father wouldn’t know the place if he rose from his bury hole, she was to call the scene to mind. This is the way it is, she would say to herself. Nowhere else but in the American wilderness could it have been.

The Trees was a book suggested to me by Goodreads due to my interest in Colonial America, and because I shelved several other books with similar premises. I'm not usually one for accepting recommendations based on formulae or algorithm, t
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Extraordinary achievement that transports a reader into a world that once was, but is no longer...

Even more impressive, if rather challenging for the reader, Conrad Richter's fiction not only preserves the physical and social reality of a time and place now lost, but in the telling has also preserved lost aspects of language itself. The dialect and words Richter uses, while still generally comprehensible, seem richly "historic" to a modern American English ear.

In fact, I ardently wish an annota
Ginger Bensman
I read The Trees (The Fields & The Town) after I watched and loved The Awakening Land mini-series on television in 1978 with Elizabeth Montgomery playing the brave and often desperate protagonist, Sayward Luckett. I loved the series so much I've re-read all three books multiple times over the years, purchased and shared them with friends, and made them almost required reading for my family (who loved them too). Richter wrote The Trees in dialect which might be a barrier to some, but if the reade ...more
Jul 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is my all time favorite book. The story tells of a family's move to the Northwest Territory (Ohio) in the late eigthteenth century. Richter doesnn't romanticize the family or the tribulations they face. The mother dies of tuberculosis and the father, a hunter, abandons the family for long stretches of time. The responsibility of caring for the family falls to the oldest, a girl named Saywood.
This book, and the two that follow are about her life in the changing world she lives in. The Ohio
Feb 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: early-america
This is a really old book. It was written long before the 80's, which I think is the earliest edition this system showed me. I borrowed the hard cover from my aunt who had gotten it as part of the enormous collection of books which had come with her really old cottage in Gay Head. The book was already ancient when she bought the house, the woman who had previously owned the house having had it since early in the century when her family lived in it, the house, that is. Dorothy, I think she was ca ...more
Tracy Chevalier
Feb 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Like a grown-up, raw version of Little House books. Convincingly transported me to late 18th-century Ohio life.
Harold Titus
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Conrad Richter’s “The Trees” is the first of a series of three novels called “The Awakening Land.” The third novel, “The Town,” won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Based on the quality I perceived in “The Trees,” I intend to read the entire series.

One reason I liked this novel so much is that Richter’s characters are so rich and diverse. This is especially true of the Luckett family members, the story’s central characters.

Worth Luckett is ill-suited for settlement life. He is a “woodsy,” a
‘That’s how life was, death and birth, grub and harvest, rain and clearing, winter and summer. You had to take one with the other, for that’s the way it ran.’
Kevin Reilly
Feb 16, 2010 rated it liked it
For better or for worse, The Trees is a very accurate portrayal of what life on the early American frontier must have been like. The book’s historical accuracy in respect to the linguistics of early American pioneers is astounding, but tested my patience thoroughly. It took me a while to realize that a “trencher” is a table, or that “butts” refers to tree trunks. The writing of Conrad Richter is, at times, undecipherable or even grammatically wrong; Take this sentence for instance: “It had black ...more
Mar 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Another review suggests this is "Little House on the Prairie" as retold by Cormac McCarthy. That's pretty apt!

I was mesmerized by this story of the earliest settlers to central Ohio's primeval forest, the Northwest Territories, around 1800. The 'woodsy' family, hunters, head into the deep forest when they see their game deserting Pennsylvania. The image of an ocean-sized swarm of squirrels running - not swinging - westward through the forest was apocalyptic.

The forest is so dense that they don
Mar 09, 2012 rated it liked it
From a purely storyline point of view, this is not a particularly compelling fictional narrative. It's essentially about everyday life of a family in a small community. Yet, this story is about early American settlers shortly after the founding of the country. It is most definitely not a Walt Disney Daniel Boone-Davey Crockett type accounting of life back then. These settlers enter the real frontier much like we might imagine going into the deepest parts of the Amazon jungle in present day. Life ...more
Sep 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
I don't even know whether I loved or hated this book. I started out loving it, in the middle I would've literally tossed it in the garbage except it was a 1950 early edition library book, then after skimming my way to the end I was grudgingly won back. This is a tale of early frontier days, when the Western frontier was still the densely-wooded Eastern forests. Sayward was a great protagonist... pragmatic, strong, and somehow optimistic in the face of a difficult life. I'm sure many cruelties to ...more
Aug 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: classic, nature, 2013, history
Enjoyed this as a step back in time - imagine looking out over the landscape and seeing nothing but trees all the way to the horizon in all 4 directions. The family in this novel are "woodsies", they hunt for a living, and aren't interested in cutting down trees and starting farms. The main character, Sayward, is a sleeper. I think I read the entire book in anticipation for when she would step up and claim her place. And she does, eventually, very near the end, and begins a radical change to the ...more
Margaret Sankey
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Set on the 18th century frontier of Ohio, this is a spare and unsentimental novel about the meeting and eventual marriage of a educated Eastern lawyer and the "woodsy" woman whose family follows the frontier rather than settle and "civilizes" it. Notable for very well-researched vocabulary differences--the lawyer speaks almost entirely in Latin and Greek-root words, while Sayward speaks in Anglo-Saxon rooted words, some literal translations like "bury hole" for grave. ...more
Feb 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this trilogy decades ago, before I started keeping my list, and had forgotten the titles and the author, so I was extremely happy when I stumbled across it while reading "The Pioneers" by David McCullough. This is a glimpse into a vanished world that was a reality so recently, just a few generations ago. The writing is vigorous and singular, in a nearly-forgotten tongue, and the lives and events are so strange, the day-to-day so daunting, yet so familiar. ...more
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wow! Gritty and real. Dialect to cadence, so precise to the period. Not an ounce of revisionist eyes or characterizations. Pioneers in America as experienced in the early days of the nation. Nothing is a given or any sure outcome for these people. Nothing.

Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is about the settlement of Ohio, viewed through the story of a young woman named Sayward Luckett (age 15 as the story begins), and also told in the language of the time, which makes for an interesting read. The book begins right after the Revolutionary War, when what was known as the Northwest Territory (later Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan) was "opened up" for settlement. In his foreword to this new reprint edition, David McCullough singles out this early paragraph f ...more
Jan 02, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the end, I found myself fond of this book. It’s not great writing; but it’s not bad. I can see where this trilogy is heading. It’s all about a generational transformation of the Midwest (what was known in the late 18th/early 19th century as the Northwest Territories - not to be confused with the north west coast territories of the mid-to-late 19th century) from frontier forest and rough hunting/trapping culture and living to farming land (and presumably ultimately to some sort of coherent tow ...more
Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...
Nov 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who enjoy historical fiction & frontier stories
In the late 18th century Ohio was the wild western frontier of a brand new country, made up of 15 states. In this story, one man decides to take his family away from the home they know into the wild forests of Ohio. Poor and ill-prepared we meet this family who take us to a place difficult to imagine. The forests are so thick that one cannot see the sky until the trees shed their leaves in the autumn. This book is the first in a trilogy (where book number three won the Pulitzer Prize) that will ...more
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Conrad Michael Richter (October 13, 1890 – October 30, 1968) was an American novelist whose lyrical work is concerned largely with life on the American frontier in various periods. His novel The Town (1950), the last story of his trilogy The Awakening Land about the Ohio frontier, won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[1] His novel The Waters of Kronos won the 1961 National Book Award for Fictio ...more

Other books in the series

The Awakening Land (3 books)
  • The Fields
  • The Town

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“As far as the eye could reach, this lonely forest sea rolled on and on till its faint blue billows broke against an incredibly distant horizon.” 0 likes
“That’s how life was, death and birth, grub and harvest, rain and clearing, winter and summer. You had to take one with the other, for that’s the way it ran. The characters and situations in this work are wholly fictional and imaginary, and do not portray and are not intended to portray any actual persons or parties.” 0 likes
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