Tree of Lives by Elizabeth Garden is a spiritual journey about multiple branches in the family tree of Ruth and her great-uncle Raymond. Told from a shifting perspective, [one] must work to find their footing with a perplexing introduction that transitions into a very rewarding story. Ruth’s extended family is hiding a mysterious tragedy, and the mystery slowly unravels as you follow her rocky transition from childhood to adulthood. Unbeknownst to her, Ruth’s journey through life is not exactly solitary.
Ruth’s story is typical of many children growing up in the 1950s. Her family unit centered around the father-as-tyrant who held his family captive by way of his explosive outbursts. Ruth spends her life encountering and succumbing to men cast in that same mold. Her family’s history of abuse is detailed through her story and in a parallel plot that slowly reveals the struggles within Raymond’s family and their untimely end.
Elizabeth Garden’s novel and weaves a compelling story about institutionalized violence and how families grow numb to its presence. She illustrates how this domestic tyranny is perpetuated throughout generations and the lives of the victims. The book has an overarching spirituality that meanders through many of the chapters, often using trees and birds as allegories. It spans many different types of organized and non-organized schools of religious dogma; Garden’s thoughts on spirituality transcend organized religion and leave no one behind. While she punctuates the story with some great quotable lines and bouts of humor, Tree of Lives invites its audience to think deeply about their family history and their individual relationships.
As previously mentioned, the beginning of the book [may seem to be] floundering to find solid ground within the plot. It does take a little bit of time before things start to click into place, but it is worth the initial confusion. I found myself invested in the characters and their stories. It also made me think deeply about my own relationships and how similar my father was to many of the men depicted. I think the mark of a good book is that it makes you really think, and Elizabeth Garden hits the nail on the head with this work. This is a thought-provoking listen for someone interested in exploring family dynamics and breaking the status quo that the head of the household is an authoritarian male. The author realistically portrays domestic violence and sexual abuse; Tree of Lives could easily trigger survivors of abuse and those sensitive to controversial topics.