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[332] The Crying Tree – Naseem Rakha

” I never was like this because I never spoke up for myself. But now I am, . . . I don’t think killing Daniel will make anyone in this world safer, and I don’t think people will ever stop killing just because we go and hold executions. I know you don’t agree, and God doesn’t agree, and the whole damn world doesn’t agree, but there it is. Move on? I have moved on. I’ve moved way on, and from where I sit, killing Daniel Robbin doesn’t serve a soul. ” [32:202]

The Crying Tree is a most tragic story, but also uplifting, and it unfolds magically and beautifully. Any attempt to summarize the magic turn of events, so unthinkable and unbelievable that outsiders would never comprehend, and leads to an unforgettable denouement, will spoil the story.

Deputy Nate Stanley calls home one day and announces he’s accepted a deputy post in Oregon. His wife, Irene, who resents having to root their lives in Illinois small town, fights the impetuous decision. Nevertheless, the family leaves, and they are just settling their life in Oregon’s high desert when the unthinkable happens: Nate comes home and finds his 15-year-old son Shep beaten and shot in the kitchen. The murderer, Daniel Robbin, is caught and sentenced to death. It is the Stanley’s desperate hope that an execution will provide closure—but what good is an eye-for-an-eye killing? Hate has run its course and depression whittled Irene to nothing. Biting anger drifts her away from her husband—until she is slowly transformed by the power of forgiveness.

Irene ran her hand over the top of her head. [Nate] was right—there had been a time when all she wanted was to see Daniel Robbin executed and everything settled. Though what killing him would settle, she had no idea anymore. As the years had gone by, the anger that had kept her heart beating had faded to a dull throb. [19:117]

Faced with a growing sense that Robbin’s death will not bring justice to Shep’s death not to stop her pain, Irene takes the extraordinary and clandestine step of reaching out to her son’s killer. That Robbin has stopped all appeals confirms Irene’s suspicion of certain events of the murder didn’t add up.

The Crying Tree explores the most mysterious sanctuary and evasive impulses of the human heart: forgiveness. The emotional terrain to which Irene is subjected is intense that, despite her strong feelings to her family, she’s emotionally alienated from them because of her secretive forging a relationship with Robbin. That she has forgiven the killer also means she has betrayed her family. Her forgiveness challenges even the magnanimity of correctional and religious institution. Justice is to see a case closed; justice doesn’t imply forgiveness, because justice has to do with getting even, and that has no room for forgiveness. What Irene does transcends justice. The arc from the desire for retribution to reconciliation, to forgiveness, and even love, the theme of the novel, but secrets, cultivated by Shep, by Nate, and by Irene, give the story body, because secrets drive the novel forward. The ultimate revelation of one secret pieces it all together, in a memorable but painstaking manner. What they have clung on for survival becomes the very thing that robs them of their life.

353 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


13 Responses

  1. Wow. I was given a copy of this but I must admit, it sort of slipped ot the bottom of my stack. I’ll dig it out as soon as I finish the shortlist reading and A Suitable Boy.

  2. I’m so excited to read your thoughts on this one. I’ve had this book for some time now, so I really need to read it!! I have to go find it first! 😀

  3. I remember when a number of bloggers reviewed this book, and I seem to recall hearing alot of words like “tragic” and “depressing” and “difficult to read”. But I don’t see this negativity in your review. In fact, I really want to read it now. I think forgiveness is a very powerful thing, something that many people just can’t get their arms around. Great review!

    • Sandy, I had to put this book down a few times toward the end. I needed to breathe and to ruminate before I could go on. It does provoke a gamut of emotions, and it is very tragic and depressing. But it’s one of the most powerful novels I’ve ever read.

  4. I don’t think I’d normally be interested in a book like this but that excerpt grabbed me by the throat! I’m interested by the fact that you describe it as up lifting, seems like it’s worth a shot. The themes of forgiveness and justice sounds similar to The Lovely Bones (which I found profoundly depressing actually)- are there any similarities?

    • I have not read The Lovely Bones so I am not in a position to compare. This book explores the dynamics of a family after the loss of a son in multiple levels. It touches my heart.

  5. […] The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha. It was the very first novel I finished in 2011, read it all on a day when I was in Penang, Malaysia. A mother sought out the killer of her son and established a relationship over correspondence in letters. But the truth of the murderous incident was nothing she had expected. I started off the book while having breakfast, read through it between attractions, on the funicular up Penang Hill, by the pool, and at the laksa (popular spicy noodle soup) stall. I stayed up half the night in the hotel room finished reading it. The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox was another all-nighter. The literary thriller set in Victorian England was about a man’s mission to reclaim the bithright taken away from him. The sequel, The Glass of Night, which I’m reading now, is just as breath-taking. […]

  6. […] The Crying Tree Naseem Rakha. The ultimate revelation of one secret pieces it all together, in a memorable but painstaking manner. What the family in this novel has clung on for survival becomes the very thing that robs them of their life. It just shows how immense of the distance between understanding and acceptance. […]

  7. […] The Crying Tree Naseem Rakha This was my first book in 2011 but its poignancy and impact has sustained throughout the year. It explores the most mysterious sanctuary and evasive impulses of the human heart: forgiveness. You will be stunned that the ending, when the ultimate secret is revealed, is much more profound than you may have first noticed. […]

  8. […] from Amsterdam: Did you really take that bet seriously? Have you regretted? To Irene Stanley from The Crying Tree: What happened to your relationship with your husband after that secret was finally revealed? […]

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