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The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha
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The Crying Tree

by Naseem Rakha

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
This is definitely a book where unhappy families are the name of the game. We begin with the murder of our heroine Irene's son and things are really pretty dang grim from there on in. The writing is both gripping and powerful, but there are quite a few occasions where it strays rather too much into the melodramatic. The middle of the book is also too long, and we did by then need to get to the point of the story.

The great mystery is what really happened when Shep (the son) died, and the events that led up to this and immediately away from it. I have to say that I guessed what was going on by Page 10, but it didn't take away my enjoyment - as Irene didn't have a clue and it's always good to have a clueless heroine, when the reader knows so much more.

That said, I thought the reasons behind the murder were appallingly old-fashioned - did people really think in that way in mid-90s rural America??!? Then again, at last, we in rural UK have something to be proud of, as surely we got over all that kind of nonsense in the 1970s. Hey ho.

The ending is spot-on, however, and I loved the way the family came to some kind of resolution with their past, and with some kind of hope for the future too. It left me with a good feeling, which is always to be desired in any book.

Verdict: 3.5 stars. Gripping but a little melodramatic ( )
  AnneBrooke | Apr 22, 2014 |
excellent book about forgiveness. Thought provoking look at the death penalty and homosexuality. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
Naseem Rakha drew me into this story immediately. The book opens in the office of Tab Mason, the superintendent of the penitentiary where Shep’s killer, after 19 years in prison, had stopped his appeals and was scheduled to die by lethal injection in less than a month. The omniscient point of view takes us primarily into the heads of Mason and Shep’s mother Irene, with occasional plunges into Shep’s father and other characters. The setting moves back and forth too, between their Illinois farm and the town in Oregon where the murder took place, and the time swings from the family’s move to Oregon in 1983 to the execution date in 2004. These switches are seamless and serve to enlarge the canvas of the story, to remind us that this tale is bigger than this one family.

But it IS mostly the intense and personal story of one family. And as the plot twists unfold, the reader travels Irene’s road of fierce hate and revenge-hunger to eventual forgiveness and re-connection. I felt that the author does an admirable job of avoiding the pat, the easy, the black and white sound bite – even the superintendent’s skin is a mixture – and she has written a provocative story that challenges the reader both emotionally and intellectually.

Stories like this one offer us the voices and faces behind big issues. They not only move us and challenge us as readers, but also serve to keep us honest as citizens of our communities, our nation, and our world.
( )
  EllenMeeropol | Apr 7, 2013 |
The death penalty is polarizing. Some people believe that those convicted of terrible crimes like murder should be executed while other people believe that there is nothing that justifies the taking of another person's life. There are many other permutations of these basic beliefs and reasonings behind each diametrically opposed stance. But debating it takes on a whole new wrinkle when the person looking forward to either execution or to pardoning the criminal to a life sentence instead is in fact a relative of the victim. In addition to being a novel about the death penalty and the debate over its morality, Naseem Rakha's novel The Crying Tree looks at the concept of forgiveness and the journey to the place where such a thing is possible even in the midst of great grief and loss.


The novel opens with Oregon State Penitentiary superintendant Tab Mason receiving the execution order and date for one of his prisoners. Almost twenty years after his conviction for the brutal murder of 15 year old Shep Stanley during a burglary attempt at the Stanley home, Daniel Joseph Robbin has stopped his appeals, clearing the way for his execution. It seems straighforward enough. And yet there is nothing straightforward about the situation at all.

Alternating between the current day and the months leading up to Shep's death, nothing is quite like it seems in this case. Nate Stanley moves his entire family, wife Irene, teenaged son Shep, and daughter Bliss from the small Illinois farm town they've lived in their entire lives to a wind-scoured, down on its luck Oregon town for the opportunity to be a deputy sheriff and to give the family a needed change of scenery. Irene is bitter and resentful that she has no say in the move and once in Oregon, she is unhappy and trapped feeling. Only a year into the Stanley's new life in Oregon, Shep is brutally beaten and then shot in their home, dying in his father's arms. The family is completely gutted, trapped in guilt and cycles of blame. Irene sinks into a deep depression and into the bottom of a bottle. In Shep's absence, Bliss doesn't become her parents' focus, instead being completely neglected. All of the Stanleys spend the seemingly unending next years waiting impatiently for word of Daniel Robbins' execution and grieving the sensitive, kind, and musically inclined Shep.

But it's hard to live in a place where hatred, and revenge are your constant companions and Irene finally decides that she needs to free herself from her toxic feelings, finding it within herself to write to Daniel on what would have been Shep's 25th birthday, offering him forgiveness for killing her son. This starts a ten year long correspondence between Irene and Daniel that she keeps a secret from Nate and Bliss. Because of the understanding and compassion Irene has come to feel for Daniel, instead of being elated by a date finally being set for the execution, she is horrified and determined to stop it. But her determination will bring to light long-buried secrets, guilt, and truth that could destroy the Stanleys anew.

The present day chapters are told by various characters, the Stanleys, the prison superintendent, and Daniel, although Irene is definitely the focus of the narration the majority of the time. The back and forth in time is well handled and the characters are all unique enough that there is never any doubt about the narration. The plot twists are not unexpected though and most of the characters are fairly cliched. Although the focus is meant to be on forgiveness, there is still a strong one-sided political statement about the death penalty here. Irene really struggles to come to peace with her decision to forgive Daniel but the end and its ultimate denouement cheapens her struggle. The revelations are heavy-handed and the characters' reactions to them make them less likable over all. The novel does make the reader think though and perhaps, in the end, that's enough. ( )
  whitreidtan | Jan 22, 2013 |
Excellent book, beautifully written and the graphic images will stay with you. Very moving. ( )
  stowkate | Jun 17, 2012 |
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Epigraph
"Love is the prerogative of the brave."
Mohandas K. Gandhi
Dedication
For my mother and father,
who taught me about the beauty of music,
the magic of words, and the gift of love.
First words
THE DEATH WARRANT ARRIVED THAT morning, packaged in
a large white envelope marked confi dential and addressed to
Tab Mason, Superintendent, Oregon State Penitentiary.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0767931408, Hardcover)

Jacquelyn Mitchard Reviews The Crying Tree Jacquelyn Mitchard's first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, published in 1996, became the first selection of Oprah's Book Club. Six other novels, three children's books, and a young adult novel followed, including A Theory of Relativity and The Breakdown Lane. Her most recent novel is No Time to Wave Goodbye. Read her guest review of The Crying Tree:

I didn’t want to read The Crying Tree this summer. For one thing, I was busy with a book of my own coming out in just a few months. I was intrigued, though, because I thought the plot sounded similar to my own 2004 novel, Cage of Stars, in which there also is a crime that not even a mother--or perhaps only a mother--could forgive.

I opened the book and read one page. I looked up. Six hours had passed and the story of Irene Stanley and her husband Nate, their murdered son, Shep, and their militant daughter, Bliss, had summited and earned its conclusion. I had fallen so under the spell of Naseem Rakha’s voice and plot that I had lost all track of time. The characters were alive. Their choices were wrenching. Their sins and their ignorance were our own.

The Crying Tree is not perfect. I was able to see the ending coming. But the pace and genuine aspirations of this story were so satisfying that I didn’t mind. The creation of the characters is redemptive and makes me hungry for more words from Rakha. The mother, Irene, is as adoring and blind as any mother, indeed as I am. The father’s hates and fears, his shame, are sadly all too believable.

For her son and her daughter, Irene dares to dream beyond her the blue-collar days in ways Rakha renders with pitch-perfect detail. When she loses her treasured son, she also loses the thread of that dream. Rallying from the bleached and hollow pod she has become to finally claim it again for her surviving child is what finally re-connects her to life--and to a truth that is as inevitable to the reader as it is heartbreaking.

This is a mesmerizing book--one any writer would envy and any reader would love.--Jacquelyn Mitchard

(Photo © Liane R. Harrison)

Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Naseem Rakha

Question: How did the idea for the book originate? Had you always been interested in the Death Penalty?

Naseem Rakha: In 2003, I met a woman during a peace rally in my small town of Silverton, Oregon. She had just visited an inmate on San Quentin’s death row—an inmate who, twenty-one years earlier, had been convicted of killing her daughter. For years, she had lived for this man’s death, believing that his execution would end the pain of her loss. What she found, however, was that after ten years of waiting and hating, she had to give it up. She wrote the man and told him she forgave him. That arc, from the most desperate kind of anguish to reconciliation and even love stunned me, and compelled me to explore this journey through The Crying Tree.

Question: As a mother yourself, was it difficult to write from Irene Stanley’s perspective about the death of her child?

Naseem Rakha: Writers of fiction must have empathy—the ability to feel what others feel, and then express those emotions in a way that keep them alive. So yes, feeling Irene’s anguish over her son’s death was difficult, but so was Nate’s anguish, and Daniel’s, and Bliss’s and Tab Mason’s. On the other hand, life also offers us moments of inspiration, joy, and redemption, and as I wrote The Crying Tree, those life-affirming emotions far outweighed the weighty nature of the subject.

Question: Without giving anything away, secrets—Nate’s, Shep’s, Irene’s—are the driving force behind the tragedy in this story. When you first started writing, did you know how the story was going to unfold?

Naseem Rakha: I knew how the story would start, I knew the conflict, and I knew how I wanted the story to end. Everything else was a surprise. Sometimes a very big surprise.

Question: Through your research and writing, has your opinion about the death penalty changed?

Naseem Rakha: I did not write The Crying Tree to make a statement about the Death Penalty. Instead, I wanted people to confront the question of forgiveness. What does it look like, what does it take, and what can it possibly give? Intellectually, I oppose capital punishment. But, if faced with the murder of a loved one, I have no idea if my moral objections would stand up against my desire for vengeance. This is a question one hopes to never face, but perhaps through this book people will think more about their own capacity to live beyond loss.

Question: Who are some of your favorite authors? Were there any books that particularly inspired you to write this novel?

Naseem Rakha: I think of authors like Kent Haruf, who can tell deep stories about ordinary lives. I think of Jane Smiley, and how she brings characters to life through dialogue and setting. I think of Truman Capote and his ability to report an event and make it feel as tangible as knife cutting through a loaf of bread. No one particular novel inspired The Crying Tree, but voices of other authors informed my own writing style.

(Photo © Gretchen Dow Mashkuri)

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:32 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Irene and Nate Stanley are living a quiet and contented life with their two children, Bliss and Shep, on their family farm in southern Illinois when Nate suddenly announces he's been offered a job as a deputy sheriff in Oregon. Irene does not want to uproot her family and has deep misgivings. They are just settling into their life in Oregon's high desert when 15-year-old Shep is shot and killed during an apparent robbery in their home. The murderer is caught and sentenced to death. Irene copes by waiting, week by week, for Daniel Robbin's execution and the justice she feels she and her family deserve. Ultimately, faced with a growing sense that Robbin's death will not stop her pain, Irene takes the extraordinary and clandestine step of reaching out to her son's killer, and the two forge an unlikely connection.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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