The Forgetting Tree almost feels like several novels in one. It's the story of a family in the aftermath of a horrible act of violence; it's an exploration of that family's ties to the land; it's the tale of a mysterious stranger who enters that family--told from both sides. It made we wonder at times whether Soli might have decided, at some point, to combine several originally unrelated story ideas and see what developed--which sounds a little haphazard, maybe, but for most part it seems to work, largely because most of it is centered on one character.
As the child of immigrants, Claire finds Forster Baumsarg's family legacy of citrus farming almost as appealing as Forster himself, and the early years of their marriage are about nurturing both the land and a growing family. Then tragedy strikes, and Claire clings more tightly to the farm than ever, even as her husband and daughters grow more apart from it, and from each other. Eventually Claire's the only one left...and she gets breast cancer. In need of a live-in companion while she goes through treatment, she welcomes a beautiful, intriguing West Indian woman into her home. Minna is mercurial and mysterious, but Claire may prefer her that way; it allows her to believe what she wants to believe about her. And then, just when the reader isn't entirely sure what to believe about Minna either, Soli completely switches gears to her perspective, although she ultimately returns the story to Claire.
The Forgetting Tree is a novel that feels both sprawling and intimate--it has the scope of a family saga, but is primarily told from a single character's perspective. Soli retains the gifts for vivid and evocative physical description she showed in The Lotus Eaters, and shows herself equally adept at creating complex psychological landscapes; many of the scenes between Claire and Minna feel fluid and dreamlike.
Soli's second novel is ambitious in a very different way from her first, and I appreciate that she's exploring other directions, and I think her writing is capable of sometimes elevating her material. Ultimately, I didn't find The Forgetting Tree as satisfying as The Lotus Eaters, but Tatjana Soli is a writer whose work I intend to continue following.