The Forgetting Tree
Tatjana Soli, 2012
St. Martin's Press
From Tatjana Soli, author of The Lotus Eaters, comes a breathtaking novel of a California ranching family, its complicated matriarch, and the enigmatic caretaker who may destroy them
When Claire Nagy marries Forster Baumsarg, the only son of prominent California citrus ranchers, she knows she’s consenting to a life of hard work, long days, and worry-fraught nights. But her love for Forster is so strong, she turns away from her literary education and embraces the life of the ranch, succumbing to its intoxicating rhythms and bounty until her love of the land becomes a part of her. Not even the tragic, senseless death of her son Joshua at kidnappers’ hands, her alienation from her two daughters, or the dissolution of her once-devoted marriage can pull her from the ranch she’s devoted her life to preserving.
But despite having survived the most terrible of tragedies, Claire is about to face her greatest struggle: an illness that threatens not only to rip her from her land but take her very life. And she's chosen a caregiver, the inscrutable, Caribbean-born Minna, who may just be the darkest force of all.
Haunting, tough, triumphant, and profound, The Forgetting Tree explores the intimate ties we have to one another, the deepest fears we keep to ourselves, and the calling of the land that ties every one of us together. (From the publisher.)
• Where—Salzburg, Austria
• Education—B.A., Stanford University; M.F.A., Warren Wilson College
• Awards—James Tait Black Prize; Dana Award
• Currently—lives in Orange County, California, USA
Tatjana Soli is an American novelist and short story writer. Her first novel, The Lotus Eaters, won the 2010 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Dana Award, her second novel, The Forgetting Tree, was published in 2012, and The Last Good Paradise came out in 2015.
Soli graduated from Stanford University (Palo Alto, California) and the Warren Wilson College (Asheville, North Carolina) with an MFA. She received scholarships to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is married and lives in Orange County, California.
Her work has appeared in Zyzzyva, Boulevard, Five Chapters, The Normal School, The Sun, StoryQuarterly, Confrontation, Gulf Coast, Other Voices, Inkwell Journal, Nimrod, Third Coast, Carolina Quarterly, Sonora Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Washington Square Review, and Web del Sol. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 3/11/2015.)
The lesson Soli has to teach...is a salient one for the modern world: even a remote citrus ranch can be a crossroads where cultures collide, and those collisions can be life-changing for everyone involved. Soli writes with patience and wisdom about both sides of this relationship, allowing both of her central female characters the freedom to be eccentric and inconsistent, but also to learn from each other.
Jane Smiley - New York Times Book Review
Soli, who made a splash with her debut, The Lotus Eaters, will captivate readers again with this twisting, intriguing tale of a grieving California woman. Claire and her husband, Forster, live an idyllic life on a citrus farm in California with their three children until their 10-year-old son is murdered in a robbery. Fifteen years later, Claire and Forster have divorced, their eldest daughters are grown, and Claire is diagnosed with breast cancer. Alone on the ranch, she needs a helping hand, and along comes Minna, a mysterious young beauty. The two women forge a co-dependent bond, and Claire sinks deeper under Minna’s spell, even though she senses danger lurking beneath. Though the story is slow and befuddling at times, Soli successfully paints an intimate portrait of two vulnerable women trying to make sense of their separately tragic lives—and becoming eerily entwined for their efforts. With her knack for beautiful prose and striking detail, this is a solid follow-up to her debut.
When life hands you lemons...burn down the lemon tree. The author of the best seller The Lotus Eaters gives us a very different but equally compelling novel about finding what's worth fighting to preserve and the act of surviving in all its moral complexity. The main character, Claire, marries into a family that owns a citrus farm in southern California. When the loss of their son tears her and her husband apart, Claire fights to protect her two daughters from further loss.... Verdict: A lush, haunting novel for readers who appreciate ambiguity, this work should establish Soli as a novelist with depth and broad scope. —Gwen Vredevoogd, Marymount Univ. Lib., Marshall, VA
The fate of a struggling Southern California citrus farm shifts after the arrival of a mysterious Haitian woman. The second novel by Soli (The Lotus Eaters, 2010) centers on Claire, the matriarch of an orchard that's been the source of plenty of financial and emotional heartbreak. Her young son was killed there, and the aftermath of his death drove a wedge between her and her husband and two daughters. Years later, when Claire is diagnosed with breast cancer, she begins to search for live-in help and is introduced to Minna, a young woman...[whose background] isn't quite what she's claimed it was. This book aspires to be a multilayered story about class and race distinctions...[but Soli's] noble goal is undercut somewhat by baggy, sometimes pedantic storytelling.... (Soli's affinity for sentence fragments amplifies the prose's stiff feel.) Minna's own section of the novel, which chronicles her travels from Haiti to Miami to California, features some of Soli's most engaging writing, though it owes a clear debt to the troubled Haitian heroines of the works of Edwidge Danticat. Ambitious but overripe.
1. Why do you think Soli named her novel "The Forgetting Tree"? How does the meaning of the title relate to the characters in the book?
2. How does the Baumsarg citrus farm shape the characters in the novel?
3. How does the loss of Josh Baumsarg affect the family? Forster and Claire react differently. How do you feel about the way they chose to live their lives afterwards?
4. Describe Minna. What is it about her that makes such an impression on Claire and her daughters?
5. How does Claire view herself as a mother? Did this perception change after losing Josh? As her daughters have grown into adults? In what ways did Claire’s relationships with Gwen and Lucy evolve throughout the novel? What particular dynamics between parents and their adult children does Soli seem interested in exploring?
6. Describe Claire's relationship with her mother, Raisi, and her mother-in-law, Hanni. What life lessons does she learn from them? How does she pass these on to her own children? To Minna?
7. The novel is structured in four parts. Why do you think Soli chose this way to tell it? What do you think of this technique? Does it change the way you experience the story?
8. In Chapter 17, Claire “could no longer tell the difference between her white and Minna’s black” What does she mean by this, and how does this suggest a theme of the novel?
9. Does knowing Minna’s past absolve her from responsibility to Claire? Do you think she overcomes these motivations by the end of the novel?
10. Jean-Alexi states that the “lost got to help the lost in this world.” In what ways are Claire and Minna lost? In what ways do they help each other out of this state? In what ways do they fail?
11. Why does Claire eventually let the farm go? Do you think this is a good or bad thing?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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