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Two Trees Make a Forest: Travels Among Taiwan's Mountains & Coasts in Search of My Family's Past

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  280 ratings  ·  61 reviews
Combining an immersive exploration of nature with captivatingly beautiful prose, Jessica J. Lee embarks on a journey to discover her family's forgotten history and to connect with the island they once called home

Taiwan is an island of extremes: towering mountains, lush forests, and barren escarpment. Between shifting tectonic plates and a history rife with tension, the
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 28th 2020 by Hamish Hamilton
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(3.5) I loved Turning, Lee’s 2017 memoir about swimming in one of Berlin’s lakes per week for a year, so I jumped at the chance to read her follow-up, which delves into her maternal line’s history in Taiwan. She travels to Taipei for three months to brush up on her Chinese, write and hike. Interspersed with the lush descriptions of her walks are reflections on Taiwan’s history and on the hidden aspects of her grandfather Gong’s past that only came to light after Lee’s grandmother, Po, died and s ...more
Nov 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Jessica J. Lee is such a beautiful writer, and Two Trees Make a Forest is such a gentle book.

I'm not typically one for nature writing; I have a hard time visualizing descriptions of the natural world, partly because I don't have the vocabulary to understand it and partly because I just find it hard to conceptualize vast landscapes in general. If you're like me, then this book will be perfect for you. Because yes, Two Trees Make a Forest is a book about the natural world--of Taiwan, specifically
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
It's been a particular pleasure in recent years to read so many books written by fellow children-now-adults of the diaspora (specifically: Taiwan); I imagine many of us wish we had such books previously, and so wrote them into existence. Lee captured a lot of my own loss/reaching (of course different, but similar) here. And finally, reading this solidly in a pandemic was a special kind of ache, but I would still recommend it. ...more
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fall-2020
Two Trees Make a Forest is an exhilarating, anti-colonial reclamation of nature writing and memoir perfect for fans of Margaret Renkl's Late Migrations and William Finnegan's Barbarian Days. It is an extraordinary narrative showing how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories. ...more
I adored this memoir.

If you like nature writing mixed with memoir and family history and travel, pick up this story of a woman travelling to Taiwan, hiking through the forests and recounting her grandparents' history.

I definitely want to visit Taiwan and hike the mountains and forests there, now.

My main critique is I wish there had been more exploration of the indigenous population of Taiwan - she briefly covers the colonization history of Taiwan (by Europeans, mainland China, and Japan at alt
May 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very informative history, both of a personal nature and of Taiwan as a whole, that combines memoir, nature essays, and history together. A unique read - not organized like other books of the same type I’ve read.

Taiwan has a fascinating history, and getting to read about that often dark past was interesting. I was also very invested in her grandfather’s story.
Nov 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everything in my education had inoculated me against this kind of anthropocentrism: to resist the idea of nature for us alone, of a forest providing arboreal answers to very human predicaments. But still I find myself falling short, seeing in this mountain a mirror for my misunderstandings, as if in knowing its nature I might find a way to belong to this place.

Jessica J. Lee's sophomore book "Two Trees Make a Forest. On Memory, Migration and Taiwan" traces her grandparents' story from China to T
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part memoir, part quest for self, family, and nature in Taiwan, this is a gentle book with a gentle narrative voice that carries the reader along on a very personal journey. I like it for its simplicity and clarity, and its evocation of Taiwan and her family that is both personal and yet placed neatly within the great sprawl of the island's history and geography. ...more
Dec 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: zhongguo, race-id
Read this memoir of author’s maternal Taiwanese side of the fam right after a friend returned from Taiwan herself, daily sending me mouthwatering photos of food while she was both quarantined in a hotel, and out on the streets and in restaurants. So glad Lee also decided to describe Tw food in detail- one day, I will make it to that island, instead of just taking a bus from Songshan to Taoyuan, eating at its airport!

Attempting to uniquely parallel and juxtapose the naturalist world of Taiwan and
Sunni C. | vanreads
I really loved this one! A proper review to come
Sachi Argabright
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
TWO TREES MAKE A FOREST is a memoir focused on discovering Lee’s Taiwanese heritage through the country’s expansive nature and mountain ranges. After unearthing part of her grandfather’s memoir, she decides to return to Taiwan to explore her history, the terrain, and a link to long lost family members.

This memoir was the first book I read that focused so closely on Taiwan as a key element of the story. The book flips back and forth between Lee’s family stories, and the history and colonization o
Jessica S
Nov 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I’m glad I picked up this book. I really got through it so quickly. There’s a lot that the author both articulates here and which you can read between the lines that just resonates – about being Taiwanese and Chinese, being of the diaspora, trying to uncover your family history, and of the divides and bridges of language, history, family, and home. It’s a must read for diasporic Taiwanese and Taiwanese Chinese folks. The book is a great and interesting blend of memoir, travel writing, and bot
Emilee (emileereadsbooks)
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thank you to Catapult for a free digital copy.

“Our history stretched across places imprecisely until our borders grew too hazy to define.”

“Taipei was a city that belonged to my childhood imagination. Built of words spoken quietly to me by my mother, its streets were paved with her longings. The air was made of memories.”

This book is an ode to Taiwan of the past, present, and future. Reading this book I was transported to the island that Lee travels to to discover her family history. This book
author reflects on migrant family history, shown through the lens of two return trips to Taiwan, mixed with known parents' and grandparents' stories and some secrets revealed through lost relatives and grandfather's rambling missive as he succumbed to dementia.

touches on the natural environment, the mountains and plants as she hikes on the island, also on the colonial history - but the detail here felt unnecessarily vague to me, and on the written language.
Nov 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The gaps that bind us span more than the distances between words.

Languages become a home.

So when the forests disappear from the slopes, the mountains, too, are not long for this world. Landslides tell us how little is eternal.

Our fleeting human worlds are so easily swallowed up by nature, our fate fastened to its course. What we believe to be culture is only ever a fragment of natural world that we have sectioned off, enclosed, pearl-like, for posterity.

The greenery’s sloping shape, held
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“I find in the cedar forest a place where the old trees can span all our stories, where three human generations seem small. The forest stands despite us.”

Content-wise, I could relate so much to her experiences of questioning identity and how it feels to be a child in diaspora. I too am ethnically Chinese with parents that grew up in another country. Both my paternal and maternal grandparents left China and moved to Laos. I struggle to identify as being Chinese when for me, there is no connection
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Multiplicity is what makes environmental historian Jessica J. Lee’s writing so unique. Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, to a mother who had immigrated from Taiwan and a father from Wales, Lee has since moved back and forth between England and Germany. Her biracial roots and her experience living in different countries have informed her nature writing, a voice that exudes a unique poignancy of a personal quest for identity and home. Read my full review on Ripple Effects.

Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“my knee pulses in pain, and tears well up. what exactly was i hoping to find? whatever i feel is inarticulate and excessive. i cannot encircle the forest with learned words and then claim to understand it. i want to know this place, to feel some sense of familiarity, but that is not simple, not an easy thing. i limp back to town, watching the sky above the lake clearing from gray to blue. the mountain remains encased in cloud, indifferent to my movements across its heavy spine.”

stunning stunni
Varsha Ravi (between.bookends)
This is a beautifully unique piece of non-fiction. Equal parts memoir, nature writing, family history and travelogue, Jessica J Lee’s Two Trees Make A Forest is a stunningly evocative and deeply personal account of her quest to understand a landscape, its history and how her family’s story is undeniably tied to it. She chances upon her immigrant Taiwanese grandfather’s letters leading her on a journey deep into Taiwan to uncover her maternal grandparent’s history and in doing so excavate a part ...more
Jordan Arellano
Sep 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is so beautiful and smart. I learned so much about Taiwan through the eyes of the author as she absorbed every tiny detail of the island. From its history to language, to its flora and fauna and bird life, she does not hold back her explorations. But what makes it beautiful is how she searches to better understand her family and background through the landscape. There is so much yearning it is palpable and melancholy. The pace is slow and meandering, and it wasn’t what I’d call a page ...more
Kristina Lynn
Oct 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was super excited to see an environmental-themed memoir set in Taiwan, since I haven't read anything like that before. I was really ignorant on the history of Taiwan, as it was never taught in my American classrooms so the background was really fascinating. I also LOVE books that have a really strong sense of place, and I really felt it with this book - the sensory descriptions of backpacking through a lush, wet, island rainstorm was really visceral and envy-inducing to read while stuck inside ...more
Johanna Haas
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating story of a woman's returning to her Taiwanese roots while exploring the wilds of Taiwan. I learned a lot about both ecological history and the ties across generations of immigrants. Also, of course, more about Taiwanese history than I ever read before. Beautifully written, I would recommend this book to just about anyone. ...more
Aug 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Without a doubt, one of the best books of the year. Beautifully written and expertly steered through a hearty assortment of related topics, perfectly balanced between informative and emotionally engaging, this is what all nonfiction writers should aspire to.
Peter A
Sep 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is a mix of biographical detective work, political and natural history, natural description, and self-discovery. It is also a story of love and devotion to understanding of the author’s grandparents’ life and their invisible ties to Taiwan.

The author had known her grandparents as she was growing up. After they died her mother discovered twenty pages of handwritten notes by her grandfather, written after the onset of his
dementia, along with two phone numbers from her grandmother. It wa
Yoon SR
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating combination of the history of family and place. Very well written, descriptive and historically accurate. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of old Taipei through the eyes of the author's mother. ...more
“Born into conflict, at the junction of two volcanic arcs, Taiwan is an unstable landmass in perpetual confrontation.”

Lee’s debut Turning was one of my treasured discoveries from this past year, and I feel it was that memoir that prepared her for the massive scope of her second book: Taiwan is explored through geological, historical, and personal lenses. In the beginning, Lee paints the country in the bold strokes of millions of years, the timeline of geology, filling our heads with the dramas o
Oct 20, 2020 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this much more than I did. DNF.
At first, it seemed like a wiki article. Then the opposite, “captivatingly beautiful prose” (from the book description) kicked in.
And it’s somewhere between there (dry text and fluff), where I like my books. I kept thinking...alright already...tell me some interesting stories!

Sarah Swarbrick
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
The title of this book is a good summary of the topics of this book, but does not do justice to the sweep of history, geology and beautiful nature writing to be found inside. A beautiful story.
Ben Truong
Dec 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ben by: Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction Winner
Two Trees Make a Forest: Travels Among Taiwan's Mountains and Coasts in Search of My Family's Past is written by Jessica J. Lee. It is a family memoir that incorporates elements of environmental and colonial history and celebrates the subtleties of language. It won the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction in 2020.

Jessica J. Lee is a British and Canadian author, environmental historian, and the founding editor of The Willowherb Review.

Lee, a Berlin-based British Canadian Taiwanese au
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