If ever there was a story crying out for someone to make a mini-series, it's The Lonely Tree - the most moving story I have read in a long time.
1934, Josef Shulman, his wife and young family flee Poland for Tel Aviv in Palestine, ahead of the Nazi invasion of their homeland. They leave behind relatives, friends and their old lives, to be pioneers in building a Jewish homeland, under the Palestinian Mandate. Josef is fanatical. He would give up all the family’s possessions to achieve the true Israel of his dreams.
|Allenby Square, Tel Aviv 1934-39 - photographium.com|
His youngest daughter, Tonia does not share his passion; she dreams of a better life in the USA and, as the years pass and war looms in Europe, she clings to a magazine picture of her dream house in Cape Cod - snipped out of a glossy magazine. She fantasises about owning it, furnishing it, luxuriating in endless hot baths, reading by electric light and feeling soft bed linen against her skin. Even having her own room would be heaven for the girl growing up with barely a minute alone. The picture goes with her, from her aunt’s cramped home in Tel Aviv, to the kibbutz she longs to escape from in Kfar Etzion, which her father helped to build.
|Tel Aviv 1934|
The inevitable war in Europe is declared. In the kibbutz, everyone crowds around the wireless, desperate for news of their loved ones, thousands of miles away. What sparse information they receive is dire. Rumours of death camps are verified and news of terrible tragedies filter through.
Yet they are not safe in their new home either, as Hitler’s troops edge closer and Italian bombs fall on Tel Aviv. The hated occupying British are now viewed as saviours but, when war ends, the struggle is on to create a new Jewish homeland. War of a different kind has come to Palestine, bringing with it yet more misery and heartache. Yet through it all, runs hope and a dominant spirit – a determination to survive.
The story is told from multiple viewpoints but, essentially, this is Tonia’s story. Fundamentally at odds with her father’s fanaticism, she falls in love with a Yemenite, Amos, but never loses her dream of a new life in America. I found myself willing her on, while, at the same time, wondering whether her dream was really the right way for her to go. This is one of the great strengths of this compulsive story. All the main characters have tough decisions to make. They don’t always get it right and they certainly don’t always triumph. The ending, though, was the right one, in my opinion - although I was sad to close my Kindle.
I can attest to this story’s staying power because I was lucky enough to read early chapters of this when it was a work in progress and the author shared it on a writers’ website called ‘Youwriteon’. It hooked me then and, a few years later, when I learned it had achieved publication, fragments of the story flowed back into my mind. Now I have read the entire novel, and the author’s vivid, moving account of the bitter struggles of those tumultuous years has left an impression on me that will remain for a long time to come.
Whatever your usual preferred genre(s) - and whichever end of the political spectrum your views lie - I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
The Lonely Tree is available in ebook and paperback formats, from the publisher, Holland Park Press Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com
Footnote: This review, and the views I have expressed here, have not been authorised or approved by the author or publisher and are purely my own.