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Elif Shafak’s The Island of Missing Trees is a many-limbed family tale that is narrated, in part, by an immigrant fig tree and encompasses the trauma of ethnic divides and civil war as well as the marvels and solace of trees and the all the lives they support. In each of these novels, characters face grief and upheaval, while a cherished tree or forest shapes and reflects human struggles, hope, and concern about the future of life on earth.
And the Mountains Echoed. By Khaled Hosseini. 2013. Riverhead, $17 (9781594632389).
An immense, ancient oak stands in a village in Afghanistan, emblematic of the complexly branching lives of Hosseini’s vibrantly realized characters in this deep and spellbinding saga of family bonds and unlikely pairings forged with love and dreams in a land torn by war, tyranny, crime, and loss.
Barkskins. By Annie Proulx. 2016. Scribner, $20 (9780743288798).
In her copious and revelatory historical woodland saga, Proulx portrays those who loved and those who destroyed North America’s vast verdant forests.
Deep River. By Karl Marlantes. 2019. Atlantic Monthly, $30 (9780802125385)
Three siblings flee Russian-ruled Finland in the early 1900s for the Pacific Northwest, where the two men work as loggers in majestic old-growth forests while their sister starts a labor union, coalescing in a dramatic tale that parallels the destruction of nature with industrialization’s crushing of human liberty.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree. By Shokoofeh Azar. 2020. Europa, $18 (9781609455651).
In a novel of fairy-tale charm and deep connection, Azar portrays Iranians suffering atrocities following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, including a mother, whose mournful enlightenment occurs atop a greengage plum tree.
Harry’s Trees. By Jon Cohen. 2018. MIRA, $26.99 (9780778364153).
Like Kostas in Shafak’s novel, Harry Crane, a U.S. Forest Service analyst, is grieving for his wife. He flees Philadelphia for the woods on Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, where he meets a nurse and her young daughter, moves into a tree house, and embarks on a seemingly magical quest.
Latitudes of Longing. By Shubhangi Swarup. 2020. Random/One World, $27 (9780593132555).
Swarup’s lyrical debut, a set of interconnected novellas, exalts in spectacular South Asian landscapes. In “Islands,” a young forest services officer in newly independent India falls in love with with a woman who can communicate with the spirits that haunt the land.
The Overstory. By Richard Powers. 2018. Norton, $27.95 (9780393635522).
A fascinating cast of characters whose very different lives align with trees propels this capacious drama of the intricate wonders and bounty of trees and forests and the catastrophic losses precipitated by their unrelenting destruction.
The Weight of Heaven. By Thrity Umrigar. 2009. Harper Perennial, $16.99 (9780061472558).
Hoping for a fresh start after the sudden death of their seven-year-old son, therapist Ellie and her husband, Frank, leave Michigan for rural India, where Frank oversees the company Herbal Solutions only to discover that it has commandeered forests on which local people rely for their health and livelihoods. Frank’s friendship with their housekeeper’s young son further complicates the predicament.
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