Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Claire is the matriarch of a citrus ranch in southern California. She is the daughter of Hungarian immigrants who fled Hungary during the second World War. Claire married into the German Baumsarg family, who owned the ranch for 3 generations, and bore three children with her husband Forster. The orchard becomes all encompassing for Claire as she takes it upon herself to make it succeed. Just as she is about to pay off all of their debt, something unforeseen happens to rock the foundation of their lives. Their beloved son dies.
Claire is torn between her extreme grief and the struggle to keep her family and orchard intact. Her marriage fails and everyone escapes the ranch but Claire. Now as she fights the battle of her life against breast cancer, her family is trying to get her to sell.
In her illness, Claire refuses to the leave the ranch and hires a personal assistant named Minna. Minna is the great granddaughter of Jean Rhys (author of Wide Sargasso Sea) Claire and Minna are drawn to one another but are polar opposites, dark and light, young and old, healthy and sick. The majority of The Forgetting Tree focuses on the relationship of Claire and Minna. What you see is not necessarily what you understand and Soli capitalizes on this.
So much of The Forgetting Tree is immersed in the senses. Soli captures the sense of place with mesmerizing detail. The orchard fruit of oranges, lemons, and avocados is a enticing backdrop with food being the staple of our lives. I could literally taste and smell the oranges from Soli's description and wanted to bite into one. The descriptions of lemons made my mouth water.
The Forgetting Tree is a family saga that questions the meaning of home and finding one's place of belonging in the world. It is complex novel with vivid characters that Soli paints with dark colors, dripping with stymied emotion. Tragedy holds many characters back from truly living.
The Forgetting Tree would make a great book for people in a book club where it can be discussed and treasured for it's complexity. Pair it with Jane Eyre or Wide Sargasso Sea. While I was reading I thought of multiple women in my life who would enjoy this book and relate to the main character. Claire is a version of every woman.