Review 1664: Greenwood

Best of Ten!

Greenwood starts with an image of the cross-section of a tree trunk, this showing the novel’s structure. The novel begins in 2038, the outer ring of the tree, and visits four different years in the past, the center being 1908. Then it returns through each of those years to 2038.

In 2038, Jake Greenwood is an overqualified scientist working as a forest ranger in one of the few forests left on earth after the Great Wilt. She is glad to have the job in a world of excessively rich people and have-nots. Greenwood Island is a sort of private park that entertains the very wealthy by touring them through the forest.

Jake doesn’t think her family has a connection with the Greenwoods of the island, once owned by the fabulously wealthy lumber baron Harris Greenwood, but a lawyer arrives saying that she may have a claim to the island.

The novel returns back in time to visit Jake’s ancestors at important events in their lives. In 2008, Jake’s father Liam’s girlfriend leaves him and then lets him know she is pregnant. Later, doing a carpentry job, he has a serious accident.

In 1974, Liam’s mother Willow, an environmental activist, lives with Liam in her van and travels around sabotaging logging equipment.

In 1934, Everett, who makes a little money tapping and selling maple syrup, finds a baby hanging on a tree outside his cabin. Although he at first tries to give her away, he begins to think she’s in danger.

In 1908, two nine-year-old boys are the only survivors of a massive train wreck. When no one claims them, the town puts them in a cabin and provides the bare minimum of their needs, the boys growing up almost feral. The boys cannot remember their names, so the town calls them Harris and Everett Greenwood.

The novel is beautifully written and like The Overstory is concerned with trees and their impact on the world. Its descriptions of forests are lyrical. The plot itself is at times so involving as to read almost like a thriller. This is an unusual and absorbing novel.

The Overstory

Maddaddam

The Sunken Cathedral

Day 1297: The Weight of Ink

Cover for The Weight of InkThe Weight of Ink is a dual time-frame novel set in the current time and the 17th century. At first, I wasn’t as captured by the present-day sections as I was by the past, but eventually the entire novel absorbed me. There is a big revelation at the end that I anticipated, but that did not lessen the power of the novel.

In the present day, Helen Watt is an English university professor of Jewish history who is elderly and ill. Requested by a previous student to examine a cache of papers he found in a wall of his 17th century house, Helen does not expect any great finds. What she discovers is a genutza, the hidden papers of a 17th century rabbi, and on one page, a mention of Spinoza. Understanding that this could be a major discovery, she requests help and gets that of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student.

One of their first, startling discoveries is that Rabbi HaCoen Mendes’s scribe, identified only by the Hebrew letter aleph, is a woman. Having reported her initial findings to Jonathan Martin, the head of the History Department, so that he could buy the papers from the owners, Helen is dismayed to find her place on the investigation usurped. She can continue working with the papers, but Martin has also given Brian Wilton access. He arrives with four graduate students to beat Helen and Aaron to any discoveries and immediately publishes an article about one of the topics in the letters.

In 1657, Ester Velasquez is a young Jewish woman who has been allowed an unusual education. In these dangerous days of the Inquisition, her family fled Portugal for Amsterdam, where her parents were killed in a fire. She and her brother Isaac are part of the household of Rabbi HaCoen Mendes, who travels to England to educate the British Jews in their heritage, these people having been hiding there pretending to be Protestants during hundreds of years when Jews were not allowed in England. Rabbi Mendes’s difficult job is made harder when Isaac, his scribe, leaves. But the rabbi lets Ester take his place.

Offered an opportunity of knowledge, Ester comes to know that she does not want to return to a woman’s life. So, she sets about a daring deception.

Aside from covering some key events of its time—the Inquisition, the return of Jews to England, the plague, and the Great Fire—The Weight of Ink offers us an intrepid, determined heroine in Ester as well as an interesting modern story. I was really touched by this novel. It’s terrific—the kind of novel I look for in historical fiction.

Related Posts

The People of the Book

The Bookman’s Tale

The Last Painting of Sarah de Vos

Day 1289: The Clockmaker’s Daughter

Cover for The Clockmaker's DaughterBest Book of Five!
The first character we meet in The Clockmaker’s Daughter is the ghost of the clockmaker’s daughter. Although she used the name Lily Millington, we don’t find out her true name, or why she haunts Birchwood Manor, until the end of the novel.

The novel begins in the present, though, with Elodie, an archivist. She is about to be married, but she is having trouble concentrating on the wedding. That is because, in going through the archive of James W. Stratton, a philanthropist, she has found the belongings of a Victorian artist, Edward Radcliffe, in particular, a sketchbook. This discovery is of interest because inside it is a picture that she realizes is of a house from a children’s story handed down in her own family.

link to NetgalleyWhile Elodie begins exploring this link between Radcliffe and her family, we slowly hear the stories of Lily Millington, of a beloved house, and of a long-lost family heirloom. We also learn the stories of a series of inhabitants of the house.

Although I love a good ghost story, I wasn’t sure whether I would appreciate the ghost being one of the narrators. And this is not a traditional ghost story, for the ghost is not one that frightens. Kate Morton is a masterful storyteller, however, so that I was engrossed as always. Although this is not my favorite book by Morton, which still remainsĀ The Forgotten Garden, I really enjoyed it.

Related Posts

The Forgotten Garden

The Secret Keeper

The Lake House