They come for the trees.
Once in a while a book comes along that is so exquisite, so delicious, so powerful… a book that compels you to think and feel deeply about life, the world around us and our purpose. Greenwood is such a book.
The story opens in 2038, on a remote island off the Pacific coast of British Columbia. Jacinda “Jake” Greenwood is a guide at the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral, one of the world’s last forests. Elsewhere in the world, the “Great Withering” has taken place, so wealthy eco-tourists flock from all corners of the dust-choked globe to see the trees and remember what once was. But even as they breathe in the fresh air and pose for photographs amidst the greenery, guide Jake knows that the forest is dying, though her bosses won’t admit it.
The novel moves back in time to 1908. Two passenger locomotives meet head-on. The only survivors are two young boys, one of them Jake’s great grandfather, who take refuge in a trapper’s cabin in a forest on the edge of town. In twenty-six years, one of them, now a recluse, will find an abandoned baby — another child of Greenwood — setting off a series of events that will change the course of his life, and the lives of those around him. Another shift in time takes us to 1974, where Willow Greenwood, an environmental activist stands in opposition to her family, trying to make amends for the destruction the family’s timber company has wreaked.
Structured like the rings of a tree, this remarkable novel moves from the future to the present to the past, and back again, to tell a multi-generational story of one family and their enduring connection to the place that brought them together. Each generation in this saga has a connection to trees, the forest, winding through time to the future that Jake now endures. This is a powerful novel, for fans of books like Overstory (which I also loved).
The future is not so far away that the reader dismisses this as pure fiction – it’s not so much the future but the now, as we sense we’re already heading in a similar direction. The skilled structure and rich prose are something to be savoured. Michael Christie is a superb writer, and despite this being a weighty book of 500-pages and complex themes, it is also a page-turner, difficult to put down. All four generations of the Greenwood family will have you riveted, and Christie masters both a family saga and an environmental manifesto.
Greenwood is an astonishing achievement. It impacted me deeply and profoundly. It is a book that lingers long after the last page – perhaps for life.