Author: Tatjana Soli
Edition: Trade Paperback ARC
Source: Many thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of The Forgetting Tree. Receipt of this novel doesn't influence my opinion nor this review. The opinion expressed here is my own.
When Claire Nagy marries Forster Baumsarg, the only son of prominent California citrus ranchers, she knows she’s consenting to a life of hard work, long days, and worry-fraught nights. But her love for Forster is so strong, she turns away from her literary education and embraces the life of the ranch, succumbing to its intoxicating rhythms and bounty until her love of the land becomes a part of her. Not even the tragic, senseless death of her son Joshua at kidnappers’ hands, her alienation from her two daughters, or the dissolution of her once-devoted marriage can pull her from the ranch she’s devoted her life to preserving.
But despite having survived the most terrible of tragedies, Claire is about to face her greatest struggle: An illness that threatens not only to rip her from her land but take her very life. And she’s chosen a caregiver, the enigmatic Caribbean-born Minna, who may just be the darkest force of all.
Haunting, tough, triumphant, and profound, The Forgetting Tree explores the intimate ties we have to one another, the deepest fears we keep to ourselves, and the calling of the land that ties every one of us together.
I can honestly say that The Forgetting Tree was a welcome interruption of my somewhat tedious schedule. Sure, the books I've read lately have been good but The Forgetting Tree is a step above and beyond! It's been so easy to totally lose track of time while reading this novel by Tatjana Soli that I almost missed my bus stop today on the way home!!
The Forgetting Tree is a story of life, of loss and love but it is more. Tatjana begins The Forgetting Tree setting the scene of a young family, working to harvest the most recent crop from their citrus orchard. The orchard is established, old even, having been passed down through the generations and the story of the beginning of it all from the root stock of one lemon tree served as an anchor for me. I love to garden so this novel immediately took hold of and kept my attention. I could relate to the labours of the harvest, the thrill of seeing and tasting the fruit thereof. Not that I've worked in an orchard, per se, but you get the idea.
Garden and book lover, The Forgetting Tree appeals on many levels. And, fellow book lovers, you'll enjoy this quote from page 123: "Rereading a book was a different experience from coming upon it for the first time. Especially if it was well-loved, like a favourite piece of music, it was capable of taking you back to a former self." Just as re-reading a favourite book, the memories of years past linger and take you back to a time previous. Those memories can foreshadow the future too as we see how time, events, and memories can affect an individual and family alike in this novel, spreading its tentacles wide, even unto those whose lives intersect their own.
A terribly sad event happens near the beginning and it overshadows the rest of the story. I shed tears. To lose a child is the saddest of events and the manner in which Claire and Forster lose young Josh is so awful and senseless. It is a natural tendency to be protective of our children but these circumstances made Claire over-protective to the point of the children feeling imprisoned and eventually drove her husband away. Then, alone, Claire is told she has cancer. At the insistence of her two daughters, Claire hires an assistant, Minna, who at first seems to be an answer to prayers. Time divulges one another's secrets and sadness, drawing these two together. Yet Minna is as mysterious as ever, as if knowing all there was to know, should that be possible, wasn't enough.
"Clare would be loyal to that mystery to the end of her days, because it was identical to the mystery of life, which one loved without ever fully comprehending it."
They learned much from each other but the lesson the most well-learned was there is "beauty in rootedness but Minna taught Claire that another kind of beauty lay in being free." (page 403) Freedom comes in stages for Claire, as in page 227, when Claire finds she doesn't have to please anyone. She found a bit of her freedom here.
The two tried to save each other and some might say their efforts failed while others might say they didn't. Whatever the case, looking beyond the fire of home, the losses, and the renewing of relationships, Claire still kept a watch for Minna's return. She offered a light to guide the way to "the beginning and the end. Home." I love this last part and had to share it because it touched the sentimental woman in me. Because The Forgetting Tree reached out and touched my very soul, pulling out the sentimentalisms, I shall not easily forget this memorable tale. Tatjana Soli brought her characters to life, beyond the words upon the page, reaching into my heart and leaving a lingering trace upon my mind I shall not forget.
Tatjana Soli's bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, was a New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the Los Angeles TImes Book Prize for first fiction, and won the James Tait Black Prize. She lives with her husband in Southern California.