The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli
The second novel by Tatjana Soli, The Forgetting Tree, is a strong and powerful story that will envelope you with its eerie and unforgettable characters. Claire Nagy dismisses the warnings by her mother and marries into a family of California citrus ranchers. Claire considers herself an independent and intellectual woman who at first wonders if her mother was right after she finds it hard to assimilate to ranch life. Eventually she warms to it with the help of her mother-in-law who stays at the ranch for the early part of the marriage. As the years go by, it seems Claire and her husband, Forster, are finally enjoying a successful and happy life with their three children, but when tragedy strikes the story really takes off.
With the loss of their young son Joshua, the family inevitably falls apart. Claire and Forster part ways, and Claire chooses to remain on the ranch with daughters Lucy and Gwen. Life goes on slowly and sadly for Claire who finds it difficult to get past her wrenching grief. A surprising diagnosis of cancer introduces the mysterious and exotic Minna, a bohemian from the Caribbean islands who charms Lucy at a local coffee shop. After a very brief interview Minna is hired by Claire to be her aid and companion during her cancer treatments, much to the chagrin of Gwen and other close friends. Not very long after Minna moves in, Claire falls under her spell and is transported to experiences in another world, especially when Minna starts using her voodoo charms and potions claiming them as part of the cancer healing process. It all seems very normal until the novel reveals the dark side of Minna. No sooner can you say Hand that Rocks the Cradle than Minna starts to step over the line, ramping up her island rituals and behaviors. As the reader, you can sense the evil agenda going on right under Claire’s nose and find yourself amazed at Minna’s underlying dark purpose. Nobody else suspects anything amiss, not even Claire’s daughters, but you get the sense Minna has done this before.
The book is divided into three sections, and even though the first part moves slowly, if you stick with it you are rewarded with the second part, where the quiet suspense builds to the riveting climax as you witness the power play between Claire and Minna. The final third abruptly switches gears by delving into Minna’s past, which I must say is a bit of a letdown because I felt like the author suddenly got distracted and decided to quickly fill the space with the story of Minna’s past life. I didn’t really care too much about this part of the story and thought it was longer than it had to be.
Indeed, if there is any fault to find with this book, is that the author tends to belabor the point and replay many of the same scenes. So by the end of the story I was breathing a sigh of relief, much like a runner crossing the finish line. I didn’t even mind that I was left to draw my own conclusions about the future of the Ranch and Claire’s life. All in all, I would recommend this book for anyone interested in family dynamics with a twist of the strange and mysterious.
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