Destination: Illinois and Oregon
Book: The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha (NEW) 2010
Unlike Steig Larsson, author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, Naseem Rakha understands the demands of fiction. Sometimes experienced non-fiction writers stumble when they turn to fiction. Naseem Rakha covered executions as a journalist. That experience moved her to write a book about the impact of murder and punishment. And in The Crying Tree, she tells her story eloquently with graceful introduction to complex subjects, believable characters we care about, and realistic American settings.
(Sorry about letting Steig Larsson impinge on this review, but I thought perhaps some of my readers might be curious about why I haven’t jumped on the band wagon to talk about his books. Simple. I don’t like them. In my opinion, he never learned how to write fiction.)
Now let’s focus on The Crying Tree, which is, by the way, a tree that is crying, not a tree where you go to cry, which was my first assumption. Although the publisher sent me this book several months ago, I was holding on to it thinking that I would use it in our Road Trip visit to Oregon. Rakha is an Oregonian, and the murder scene is Oregon and the prison is located in Salem, Oregon. However the majority of the book takes place in Illinois.
When it was time for me to read an Oregon book, a horrendous tragedy had happened in Tucson–the mass murder of six people, including a nine-year-old-child. Then I opened The Crying Tree, which begins with the murder of a young boy (15, not 9). I was not sure I could continue. I was reeling because I knew the Member of Congress who was wounded in Tucson, and the scene of the crime was a shopping center I frequent.
But before long, I was hooked. The story was particularly timely. The father works in law enforcement in Illinois, and announces to his wife one day that they are leaving her family home to move across the country to Oregon. In the new location, their son is killed in an apparent random robbery.
The story swings between the prison in Oregon and Illinois, over the 19-year period that it takes to carry out the death sentence on the confessed killer. In the Oregon prison, we see how waiting for the execution affects the killer, but also the effect it has on the warden of the prison. In Illinois, we read about the mother’s spiral into depression and alcoholism after the family moves back home to Illinois. I cared about all of them, because Rakha made me care as she unravels family secrets and shows the road from wanting revenge to forgiveness.
It would be so easy to slip into polemic with a book like this, but the author resists the temptation. Her use of language is exquisite, and I loved the author’s note where she thanks Aaron Copeland “for creating music that inspired many scenes in this book.” If Copeland can help create wonderful scene settings like in this book, then all authors had best run out and buy CDs of Copeland.
If you are not familiar with southern Illinois before reading this book, you will see much that is new. If you assume that Oregon is all beautiful coast line and the city of Portland, you’ll learn about a distressed small town. That qualifies this for the traveler’s library–particularly for one not attuned to rural and small town America.
Follow this link if you would like to see some interesting video interviews with the author.
The road trip does indeed jump down from Alaska to Oregon next Wednesday, as we near the end of the road. If you want to discuss the death penalty in the comment section, I just ask that you keep it civil. Perhaps you would like to talk about Steig Larsson, and argue with my position on his books. Or, do you know southern Illinois and want to talk about that?
People who comment on this post will be entered in a drawing to win my copy of The Crying Tree. And all comments through January 31 are eligible for the two-night stay at Cambria Suites. See contest rules.
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