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Two Trees Make a Forest: On Memory, Migration and Taiwan

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  681 ratings  ·  146 reviews

I have learned many words for 'island': isle, atoll, eyot, islet, or skerry. They exist in archipelagos or alone, and always, by definition, I have understood them by their relation to water. But the Chinese word for island knows nothing of water. For a civilisation grown inland from the sea, the vastness of mountains was a better analogue: (dao, 'island') built from

Kindle Edition, 256 pages
Published November 7th 2019 by Virago
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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
Allison ༻hikes the bookwoods༺
Boring. So boring. I’m a bit of a family historian and enjoy researching my family tree and piecing together a narrative about my ancestors lives, so I can understand what Lee is trying to accomplish here. I just don’t think it holds interest for the average reader. I mean, even if you don’t find the family history boring, the long descriptions of the flora and fauna of Taiwan are sure to get you.
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 23, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's another in a growing work of literary nature writing that I find I'm a sucker for. From The Overstory to Greenwood it's the personal entwined with the natural world and Lee, as an environmental historian, is uniquely poised to tackle this growing genre.

It is the history of Taiwan, a relatively young island at a spry 6-9 million years and barely 90 miles wide, variously occupied by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese and Chinese. It is the home to thousands of endemic species specific
Nov 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Diane S ☔
Feb 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nf-2021
3.5 Thoughts soon.
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Chels Patterson
This book had everything I should like, it’s a family memoir, travel log, and a nature travel. But it lacked any pull for me.

The best way to describe it is a mix of Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto and Beyond the Trees by Adam Shoalts. But where both have a clear progression and timeline, even with flash backs and complementary stories as the main story progresses.

What I remember about this story is the grandparents lived in Niagara, that the grandfather learnt to cook at the feet of his mother. An
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
Shimmi Kelly
Oh my. This book is so special. Jessica J. Lee’s depiction of Taiwan’s nature and landscape is rich and gentle and vibrant. The writing is just gorgeous. She perfectly describes the bittersweet, haunting feelings of walking where others have walked before. Deep connections between family, landscape, and history are wound together so elegantly! This book is a wonderful balance of intimate emotion and fascinating knowledge.

Now, I feel like I must visit Taiwan and see the beautiful landscapes and w
May 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jaime Morse
Feb 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I just couldn't sink my teeth into anything here. ...more
Dec 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Oct 20, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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!

Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It makes me sad to see how many people think this memoir is boring. I understand where they are coming from, and maybe if I had read this book instead of listened to it, I may have had a harder time getting through it.

To me, this memoir was a meditation on belonging and mourning. Mourning a lost history, a lost ancestry, a lost connection....researching and learning about Taiwan is an act of mourning for this attempt to piece together a broken history of family and land...a story th
3 ⭐⭐⭐'s

Like the sequoias of the U.S. Pacific Northwest, red and yellow cedars in Taiwan are so huge that just two of them, writes environmental historian Jessica J. Lee, can look and feel like a whole forest...

At the center of “Two Trees Make A Forest” is the author’s exploration of family identity and the political dimensions of Taiwan’s past. While born and raised in Canada, Lee writes that “Taiwan and its past had inhabited my imagination for most of my life.”

While “Two Trees Makes A Forest”
Feb 09, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a combination of family history, memoir, and the sociopolitical and geographical history of Taiwan. The writing was beautiful and I definitely want to visit Taiwan now. Some of the more technical/scientific components about geography and botany were a bit tricky in audiobook format, and I would have maybe done this as a physical book in retrospect.
Laurie Burns
Feb 25, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I lived in Taiwan so I think I found this book much more interesting then I would have if I hadn’t. It’s very dense and talks a lot about nature and I often had to make myself slow down to really savour the writing and not just skip through some of it. I did enjoy the book though especially the family relationship parts and found it quite moving.
Colleen Earle
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada-reads
I liked this more than I thought I would
I would say that this is peek Canada reads memoir. It was lyrical
I think I would have connected more with the story if it was more linear
I learned a lot about Taiwan
Feb 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-author
I listened to this as an audiobook.
Although there is certainly a lot of information on the history of Taiwan and the state of much of its flora and fauna, I didn't find these details overpowered the basic story of the discovery the author's own family history.
Sunni C. | vanreads
I really loved this one! A proper review to come
Sachi Argabright
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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)
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.
I was really intrigued by the title and synopsis of this book and picked up a copy from my local bookstore. Soon afterwards it was shortlisted for Canada Reads 2021 and I was even more excited to read it!

Two Trees Make a Forest is Canadian author Jessica J. Lee's second book. As the name suggests, it's about her travels in Taiwan whilst trying to learn more about her grandparents past. Her grandparents were both Chinese, but immigrated to Taiwan where they raised their daughter, before eventuall
Dani (The Pluviophile Writer)
The gaps that bind us span more than the distances between words.”
2/5 stars.
ebook, 271 pages.
Read from February 4, 2021 to February 9, 2021.

Review at The Pluviophile Writer:

My second of five of the Canada Reads 2021 selection that will be championed by Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Helman in the debates that take place in March.

I know, I’m behind but I’ve been up to my ears in essays. I was really looking forward to reading this memoir and learning a bit more about Tai
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Diverse Canadian ...: Two Trees Make A Forest by Jessica J. Lee 2 7 Feb 02, 2021 09:49AM  

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