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The Tree of Life Paperback – May 1, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This novel about settlers on the Ohio frontier at the time of the War of 1812 is cast in the form of a personal journal. The diarist is Thomas Keene, a former Maine minister who has lost his faith and who is seeking something in which to believe. Two other people dominate his journal: Fanny Cooper, a young widow with whom Keene has fallen in love, and the eccentric John Chapman, better known now as the legendary Johnny Appleseed. The terse journal format is well suited to convey the hardships of the frontier, where sudden death through accident, illness, or Indi an attack was omnipresent; but it is less effective in conveying the personalities of its characters. Even so, this is a worthwhile novel and one to recom mend to readers who enjoyed Conrad Richter's This Awakening Land (1966). Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Praise for Hugh Nissenson and The Tree of Life

Finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award

"This small novel works like a laser beam, penetrating the American experience with searing and concentrated intensity."—Los Angeles Times

"The Tree of Life is one of the most powerful, original, and disturbing books that I have read in a long time. Hugh Nissenson has caught the voice of the old-time diary keeper just exactly. It's uncanny, marvelous, so direct and deceptively simple that you know what pains he has taken.The book is a work of art and no one who reads it will ever forget it."—David McCullough

"It is a tale more moving and haunting than one thinks it can possibly be."—The Village Voice

"The juxtaposition of horror and information perfectly captures the genius of this imagined diary…Scarcely a word is wasted. Hardly an aspect of the struggle to found a new civilization remains untouched. The Tree of Life dramatizes, sometimes with almost unbearable intensity, the American dream and its attendant nightmare."—Time Magazine

"[The Tree of Life] confronts us where our deepest and most disturbing fantasies intersect with our sense of history…Given the richness of its texture and the strength of whichever of its threads one pursues, one can imagine that its force will grow and take an ever tighter grip on our understanding of the American past. It is a book that plants deep seeds."—New York Times

"A beautifully paced book…[it] allows the shocks and resonances to gather slowly, the way they do in life when you are taking everything in, but cannot yet allow yourself to admit how much you've been affected…In thrall to the powers Mr. Nissenson has invoked and wielded with such fearful symmetry—the powers of documentation and of vision—we can only read on."—Margo Jefferson


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 189 pages
  • Publisher: Paul Dry Books (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0966491327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0966491326
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,120,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on May 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is like nothing I've ever read before. It is brilliant. Read it. This is history come alive. Rattlesnake bites, Indian skirmishes, visionaries and slaves and frustrated widows--all the true voices of the American Frontier come through this "journal" with unbelievable power and desperate longing.
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In 1811, Thomas Keene, a minister, loses his faith and travels to Ohio. In this sparse, concise "diary," we get to know Thomas, his mundane activities, his fantasies, and his remarkable adventures on the American frontier. Thomas writes of routine events (his cash accounting, his business selling home-made whiskey), his sexual fantasies and realities, his relationships, his drunkenness, war, Indian legends, and the remarkable hardships of frontier life.
Through the series of simple journal entries, sketches, drawings, and accounting entries, author Hugh Nissenson creates a profound portrait of a fascinating man. Nissenson is a master of "artificial reality"- the structure, style, and false references lend an air of truth to this work of fiction. Historical facts and figures weave seamlessly with the fictional elements. The War of 1812 and John Chapmann (Johnny Appleseed) are prominently featured in the story. And Nissenson himself created the drawings and sketches attributed to his fictional character (the cover is a sample of his work).
I loved this book. It creeps into your mind and comes back to haunt you. I admire Hugh Nissenson's ability to paint, with deceptively-simple strokes, a deep, rich, intimate, lush landscape and a deeply moving character.
If you read and enjoy this book, be sure to read Nissenson's The Song of the Earth, in which he leaps forward rather than back in time for a stunning vision of what might be.
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Format: Paperback
Writing this review two days after John Updike's death, I'm moved to note, through the contrasting example of Nissenson's career, the drastic difference in the two authors' range of printed output. And yet, if artists may be judged by a single work, then The Tree of Life puts Nissenson on the same plane as Updike. Indeed, it may be more indisputably a masterpiece than any single offering by Updike (though in the wide view Updike reigns supreme over every American contemporary and possibly over every American author ever). As for The Tree of Life, however, it is concisely, precisely beautiful, harrowing, historically evocative, and spiritually unsettling in a way that confirms the spirit. Hard to do, you say? Read it.
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