Thursday, October 04, 2012
The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli
Soli's second novel, the followup to one of my favourite books of last year The Lotus Eaters was a shock to me because I did not expect a writer who clearly puts so much thought into both research and writing to be able to publish another book so quickly. But somehow, Soli managed. The Forgetting Tree is the story of Claire, a woman diagnosed with cancer and clinging to the citrus ranch where she raised her family, and Minna, the young caregiver with a mysterious back story who may be either the worst, or the best, thing that could possibly happen to Claire.
Minna is really the controversial part of The Forgetting Tree, as much as I hated her at times, I couldn't help sympathizing with her, and recognizing that despite all the awful she was doing she still might be able to save Claire. It was an emotionally conflicting dilemma, and one that left me ultimately unsure about the definitions I wanted to give the characters. Nobody in this novel is all good or all bad. Claire might love her children, but that doesn't mean she's been a good mother. These sorts of complicated feelings are what Soli captures so well. The only unfortunate part is that it took a decent chunk of the novel for them to really come alive.
The beginning of The Forgetting Tree is beautifully written, but ultimately it is back story, not its heart. That doesn't happen until Minna arrives.
Just like Soli brought Vietnam in 1975 to life in The Lotus Eaters, California ranch life comes alive in The Forgetting Tree. Her books are clearly impeccably researched, and she has the amazing of giving enough details to truly make the reader feel like they are there, without boring them in the minutiae. I have to admit that I still prefer Soli's first novel, but the fact that her second was less consistent in its genius does not at all deter me from picking up whatever she publishes next.
Ultimately, this is a beautifully written book that is both moving, and a touch spooky. Although The Forgetting Tree had a slow start, Soli has told a complicated and powerful story that challenges the reader, and I continue to be a huge fan of her writing. I can only hope she continues to be so prolific and that another book will arrive in 2014.