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The Syringa Tree: A Novel Paperback – October 9, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (October 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375759107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375759109
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,160,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Six-year-old Lizzy is present when her doctor father secretly delivers the baby of her nurse, Salamina, in a white suburb of South Africa in 1963. It becomes Lizzy's special responsibility to keep the infant hidden from the police as well as from the Afrikaner neighbors. As the irrepressible child grows, it becomes more and more difficult to keep Moliseng hidden, and she is sent to the slums of Soweto to live with her grandmother. At the age of 14, she is killed by police as she leads other children in a final defiant and heartrending gesture, proclaiming her freedom. The narrative is told from the point of view of Lizzy, who grapples with the conflicting social, political, and religious values of the times and with her mother's depression. She finds comfort, if not answers, in the distracted attention of her father, the unconditional love of her nurse, and her own Syringa tree with its sweet-smelling blossoms. Readers will be carried away by lyrical descriptions of the sensual beauty of the veld and will experience the heartache of the characters as their lives are torn apart by the violence of the period. The story is as compelling and enlightening as Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country (S & S, 1977), and the writing is evocative of that classic work.–Jackie Gropman, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In the tradition of such great southern African writers as Nadine Gordimer and Doris Lessing, this gripping first novel tells the apartheid story through the eyes of a white child who loses her innocence as she confronts the anguish of a black family torn apart by law, separated from each other and from her. Gien was born and raised in Johannesburg, and her acclaimed autobiographical Broadway play with the same title won the 2001 Obie Award. Now her spare, beautiful prose fills in the history and politics at the height of apartheid. But the focus is on the child Elizabeth and her liberal home. Her part-Jewish dad is a surgeon at the black Baragwanath Hospital. Her parents allow her beloved nanny, Salamena, to give birth to a baby girl, Moliseng, born illegally in the white suburb and hidden for years from brutal police raids that would banish the child. When finally Moliseng must leave for the seething Soweto black township, Elizabeth is bereft at the loss of her sister-friend. And what of Moliseng and her broken mother? The small, daily details reveal the savage cruelty of displacement and of servants in the backyard, even with a kind, white "madam." Beyond message, the story builds to the unforgettable climax of the 1976 Soweto uprising, led by children, who are massacred. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

I thought it was beautifully written.
Myra Wexler
This is one of those rare books that reaches in and grabs the readers very soul.
Madeline
I saw the play and thought it was great, but the book is even better.
George Joseph

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Hadas B. Rudy on August 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The Syringa Tree is a wonderful book. It is a can-not-put-down book. It is written in such a soft, gentle and yet so powerful way. You can really feel the pain and happiness, the hope and despair of the people in South Africa during the Aparthied years.

My South African friends tell me that the story is so true and many of them lived through it.

I highly recommend this book.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Cleary on July 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I saw Gien's play on Broadway and again three more times with different actresses and finally with Gien herself in the role. I finally decided to teach it to my 11th grade English Class to great success.

This is story that stays with you. Now that it is a novel, Gien's voice resonates even louder, and I am hearing her story all over again with even more strength. The characters bring us to tears and to joy. Tell everyone you know about this book. It will change your life and open your eyes to cycle of opression. Pamela Gien is a gifted actress and writer: a rare gift to all of us.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Heather C. Scott on August 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As another South African expat who lived through the same years Pamela Gien describes, I have to say that this is the most honest description of life in South Africa during the times of apartheid, as experienced by an ordinary white family, and especially through the eyes of a child.

Yes, it is political to a degree. It has to be. They were "political times", whichever side of the divide you lived. Those reviewers who found it "too political" confound me. It was what it was.

But there is another aspect to Gien's book. Page by page I gasped in pleasure at old memories she stirred. Lifebouy soap, the tokoloshe, the maid's bed on high bricks, Springbok radio. Her evocative descriptions of the highveld and all its peoples. How wonderful that these forgotten pieces of a life, gone forever, can be resurrected so skillfully. I loved that part of it.

So many of us lived on the "white side of the divide" almost totally unaware of the undercurrents that were surging in the country at the time. This book brought the two sides together in an honest, sometimes brutal way. The human story on both sides of the divide was riveting, and all these years later deepened much of my own understanding.

Thank you, Pamela Gien, for giving us the best book I have read this summer.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By George Joseph on August 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I saw the play and thought it was great, but the book is even better. In it, the author has gives herself the time and space to luxuriate in beautiful descriptions of her troubled homeland and flesh out the contours of the many wonderful characters who inhabit a little child's world. I read the last 120 pages in one sitting and finished deep into the night. I just sat there for almost an hour thinking about it. The book is complex, filled with layers of fun and sadness, profound thoughts, horrible violence to the body and spirit as well as the innocent musings of a child. I loved the way she captured the mind set of Elizabeth. Gien gives her lots of funny little things to say, but also fills her mind and mouth with wisdom that only children have. I was so moved by the end, not just because of what happens to Elizabeth's friend, but because of what happens to her mother and father. Watching parents get old, demented and lonely is a universal problem, not one confined to the tip of a far away continent.

I suppose you can say that the book is about politics, but I do not agree that the book is too political, as one reviewer here said. So what if there are political undertones in the book. There is no end to the great literature that has been based on, and written against the background of, political turmoil and strife. It is like saying Dr. Zhivago was too political. What was that? A love story or a political drama or a beautiful human story that arose out of, and became tragic because of, the political struggle of the day? The political movement there--communism and the great puge--made the story what it was. The same is true here.

The Syringa Tree is very moving and loving.
Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Myra Wexler on October 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had heard the author of this book on NPR, reading from the book and discussing it.

I was totally intrigued and purchased the book, here at Amazon.

I was not the least bit dissappointed in reading it.

I thought it was beautifully written.

I was able to conjure up wonderful visuals and feelings from the authors written words.

I was quite suprised to read an unflattering review in the NY Times Book Review, subsequently, giving the book less than an outstanding review.

They felt the play, based on this book, was far superior.

I didn't see the play. I read the book.

I thought the book was beautiful, expressive, touching, sensitive as well as powerful. I throughly enjoyed the read and send a BRAVO to the author, for a job well done.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By H. Haverstock on November 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was given to me by a friend, and I will admit to first thinking

"Oh bother, another political novel about South Africa." I put off reading

it for some weeks. But now I'm giving it to everyone I know for Christmas.

It not only is first rate writing- really evocative, almost incantational-

but the story itself is so compelling and so original (the device of having a

child for a narrator works better here than in any other novel I can

remember!)- Gien's is a totally fresh voice, and so empathetic! She weaves

magic in this book, it's just haunting. I kept thinking what a terrific film

it would make, but don't miss this book!
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