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3.5 out of 5 stars
The Forgetting Tree: A Novel
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
THE FORGETTING TREE begins with a tragic loss and ends with a long-delayed renewal. The bulk of the novel deals with what happens in between these two events, showing the gradual changes that become the impetus for a dramatic rebirth of sorts.

The loss of ten-year-old Joshua leads to the eventual dissolution of the Baumsarg family. The mother Claire is left living alone in the family home on their California citrus farm. Her ex-husband Forster has found someone new, and daughters Gwen and Lucy can't stand to be on that isolated farm with their mother and her painful memories.

Years later, breast cancer treatments require that a caregiver be found for Claire. Enter Minna, a young woman of dubious motives and questionable background. Here is where the story began to break down for me in terms of both interest and plausibility. I could not buy that Claire would just hire this girl Lucy found at a Starbucks, with no references or background checks.

If Claire's tragedies and illness left her feeling frail and vulnerable, she would be LESS trusting of strangers, not more so, especially given the fact that she would be alone with this person in a remote location. And if Claire did act too hastily in hiring Minna, she would have quickly rectified her mistake when she and her neighbors compared notes and found that Minna's stories didn't add up.

The premise we're meant to accept is that Claire is so needy and Minna is so exotic and interesting that Claire is just besotted, willing to let Minna call the shots, even when the house is disintegrating around them. It just didn't work for me. I can't say much more about it for fear of spoilers.

I also found the reading a trifle tedious in that long stretch where Minna and Claire are living in the house together, mostly lazing around, with Minna doing her weird ritualistic stuff. It felt like I spent almost the whole book waiting for something to happen. When things DO finally start to happen close to the end, it's very dramatic and exciting and a little spooky. But it takes an awfully long time to get to that point where both Claire and Minna reach for renewal and irrevocable change.

I loved Tatjana Soli's first novel, THE LOTUS EATERS, but THE FORGETTING TREE, though masterfully written, was less resonant for me. I will certainly look forward to her next book.
Rating = 2.5 stars
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2012
Tatjana Soli's The Lotus Eaters was the best debut novel I'd read in ages. It was hard to imagine she could outdo it, and I'll confess I approached The Forgetting Tree with trepidation. But this story of Claire Baumsarg, the complicated matriarch of a California ranching family, and Minna, the enigmatic young woman who comes to take care of Claire as she battles cancer, is amazing. It's clearly a Tatjana Soli book--the gorgeous language, the plumbing of complex characters in challenging circumstances--but it is also a departure from The Lotus Eaters. It's set in contemporary California peacetime rather than 1970s Vietnam War, and it includes a larger cast of characters, and in some ways more complicated emotions. The character of Minna is one of the most fascinating I have ever read. I loved this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2012
"She felt like a yogi deep in the forest, meditating on the heart of the universe, hidden and yet connected with everything." The fictional work this novel most reminded me of, mood wise, was the 1979 film Apocalypse Now. Not due to violence, but due to its darkly brooding, somewhat realistic, somewhat fairy tale-like, story that slowly gathers its characters in and carries them inwardly downriver to what may be horror or may be toward greater light and redemption. The journey getting there is both the mystery and the delight.

The Forgetting Tree beautifully examines what happens when life is stripped down to its essence, when cultures grapple with issues of trust, when your foundations are lost. It's murky, sensuous and fun all at the same time and the fact of it being set in the ordinary world of the California citrus industry - family owned ranches selling out to land developers, grafting, tule fog, irrigation systems - makes it even more wonderful. While I couldn't help but hope this novel would be as good as The Lotus Eaters I found it to be more mature, at times jagged, sometimes better. A truly original myth for a modern world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When I began 'The Forgetting Tree', I believed that it was going to be a quick but poignant read.

The basic premise of the novel...to find peace in the aftermath of a tragedy, was an immediate draw.

However, the story branched out with a complex addition of characters, and a focus on two women with diverse histories.

Fate brought them together with a unique and disturbing co-dependendency. While one of these women continuously tested her strength, not often realizing so; the other became machiavellian in character.

Often wrenching in its tale, the thoughts presented by the author echo real lives, not everyone's of course, but then again...we all have our 'own story'.

Right on down to the end, I could not predict the outcome.

'The Forgetting Tree' is one of those extraordinary works that I will never forget.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This complex, mystifying, and terrifying novel begins very simply, with spare prose and a story of tragedy that strikes the family members of a 580-acre citrus ranch--the violent loss of a beloved son and brother.

Claire is a literary intellect from a scholarly family, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants, who falls in love with Forster, the son of German immigrants and a man of the land, a citrus farmer in California. Claire grows to understand the land, and to subsequently love the farm, to feel sewn and hewn to it, especially after the death of their son, Josh. Their daughters, Gwen and Lucy, take different paths, and try to talk their mother into selling the land after the harrowing events that changed their lives forever.

The first part of the book didn't thoroughly draw me in. The tragedy/history was told in a stilted voice that removed me from the emotions and drama of the story at hand. However, once Claire hires an enigmatic and beautiful caregiver, Minna, a Caribbean woman who tells them that she is the great granddaughter of novelist Jean Rhys, both the prose and the plot develop with a stunning complexity, taking on a deeper patina, with a sinister and menacing tug at its center, as well as a profound and intricate force of beautiful narrative expression.

After the prosaic and somewhat sterile first half, the second half demonstrates that Soli's plotting and voice was a stylistic choice--deliberate, measured, finely tuned. The latter 200 pages were exceptionally imaginative, with resinous scenes and psychologically brilliant portrayals and insights. By the end of the story, I was gasping, and my heart was both engorged and impaled by the events, and Soli's writing. By the time I was in section III (out of IV), I knew I was in the hands of a masterful, labyrinthine writer, who combined aspects of gothic, folk, and historical writing into a dramatic and sometimes surreal saga.

How synchronous that I would read two books in a row about the passion and vicissitudes of farming an extensive orchard, the first being THE ORCHARDIST, by Amanda Coplin. Both novels explore themes of reverence and fealty to the land, and both have a middle-aged protagonist who invites an unknowable stranger(s) into his/her life, and grow to love them like daughters, and suffer great torment from the darkness of haunting pasts.

Lyrical and hypnotic, Soli's writing will keep you fastened to the story and characters. The relationship between Minna and Claire is unique and moving--as unforgettable as the "forgetting" lemon tree that is the touchstone of the orchard and the leitmotif of the novel's core paradoxical theme.

"...an unheard of thing happened in the orchard...the leaves on the citrus turned a burnt yellow...clung on for over a month, fresh and pliable and yellowed, then overnight every single one fell to the ground. A gold carpet upon which stood a barren stick forest. The bark turned hard as iron...

"The orchard's shock deeply moved Claire, as if the land itself had turned sentient, mirroring her belief that the only true love is the one tested...the land reached out to her, and she accepted...she'd survived, her son had not."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2014
I felt that Tatjana Soli was a wonderful writer. I was amazed at her ability to tell this story. A story of a woman's grief over losing a son, and facing cancer. The young woman that came to care for her had such a difficult background. Stealing, lying, immoral friends, prostitution and even Voodoo. I felt rather depressed over her lifestyle, so that is the reason I only give this book one star. I have to say that I prefer books that uplift, so this was a bit heavy for me.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 7, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Actually, this seems to be a very popular theme this year. I've come across several recent novels all with this basic theme.

In this novel, a sense of tragedy due to the brutal death of 10 year old Joshua pervades the story. However,the main character is lifted by the citrus crops on her land, and also by supportive friends, one in particular. There is a mysticism here and ultimately hope.

A quite satisfying read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2013
i have rarely disliked a book as much as "The Forgetting Tree". Claire has to be the most addled main character I've come across. Her reactions to her circumstances are neither believable nor realistic. This book might have flown on Oprah or as a bodice ripper but, ugh!, how did this novel make people's best book of the year lists? Also, ALL the male characters are cardboard.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2013
I picked up The Forgetting Tree after seeing it appear on the 2012 NY Times Notable Books list. I am super glad I did as it was an excellent book. Incredibly well written and the story moved at a very fast pace. I have not read The Lotus Eaters but I have heard that is equally good. The book itself is about a woman named Claire who is married to a guy named Forster and they own a far that has been in his family for many years. The farm is starting to lose traction and not produce as much but they are stubborn--they want to keep it going along with the numerous workers they employ. They divorce and eventually not only does the farm start going downhill but Claire does as well as he contracts cancer and has to get treatment. Her two girls determine that she needs full time help to take care of her and they hire Minna who is what can only be described as a totally different woman who brings both chaos and order to Claire's life and the farm. Probably in most cases more chaos than anything. The book takes a detour to talk about Minna's life growing up in the Caribbean under terrible conditions as alternately a slave or maid. A very good book that really spends a lot of time delving deep into the lives of the characters involved and great read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2014
The Lotus Eaters was one of my favorite books. I gave it five stars. I didn't want it to end. So, I went into this book with high hopes, only to be bored out of my mind. Nothing really happens. It is wildly different from the excitement of The Lotus Eaters. I'm very disappointed. Reading this book was as fun as watching paint peel.
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