Author: Michael Christie
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Publication Date: September 4, 2019
Synopsis from Goodreads:
They come for the trees. It is 2038. As the rest of humanity struggles through the environmental collapse known as the Great Withering, scientist Jake Greenwood is working as an overqualified tour guide on Greenwood Island, a remote oasis of thousand-year-old trees. Jake had thought the island’s connection to her family name just a coincidence, until someone from her past reappears with a book that might give her the family history she’s long craved. From here, we gradually move backwards in time to the years before the First World War, encountering along the way the men and women who came before Jake: an injured carpenter facing the possibility of his own death, an eco-warrior trying to atone for the sins of her father’s rapacious timber empire, a blind tycoon with a secret he will pay a terrible price to protect, and a Depression-era drifter who saves an abandoned infant from certain death, only to find himself the subject of a country-wide manhunt. At the very centre of the book is a tragedy that will bind the fates of two boys together, setting in motion events whose reverberations we see unfold over generations, as the novel moves forward into the future once more.
Mimicking the structure of a tree’s rings as you move backwards in time towards the centre, Christie’s book delves in to the history of one particular family, from the not so distant future back to the early twentieth century. Overall this book is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Made on 100% recycled paper, sporting a stunning cover, embellished with tree rings on the pages’ edges, and finally a plot that structurally resembles a tree’s own inner workings, this book is a masterful piece of art. And of course, trees are central to the story itself. These pages contain the history of the Greenwood family–tumultuous, questionable, devastating, but also beautiful, moving, and totally gripping. Something about this story called to me. I couldn’t put it down, but at the same time, I had to pause to read and re-read in order to savour the story and fully absorb every plot twist and character trait.
In this epic family saga, travel through time to discover how each generation, so broken and isolated, connects and intertwines with those that came before and those that follow. What moved me most about this book was the robust and incredibly well-developed cast of characters. It was so easy to connect with each character because they felt so tangible. Their stories are gritty and sometimes difficult, so they themselves are hardened and imperfect. Their worlds are tied to the land of the giant trees growing in British Columbia. These characters are the trees and the trees are them. It is their life and their livelihood, whether they are aware of that fact or not. They are who they are because of and in spite of the trees.
The undertone of this story is one of warning: environmental preservation is paramount to the survival and perseverance of the world as we know it. The characters in Christie’s story are often selfish and blind to the ultimate outcome that their actions may have. Everything they do carries a consequence, but they often lack the foresight to be able to change. Their world’s are wracked with crime, loss, anger, confusion, and pain, but there is also kindness, selflessness, hope, and new life. It is truly a story of the difficulties and the joys of family and of living on this Earth.