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Michael Christie

‘The truth is that all family lines, from the highest to the lowest, originate somewhere, on some particular day. Even the grandest trees must’ve once been seeds spun helpless on the wind, and then just meek saplings nosing up from the soil.‘

2038. On a remote island off the Pacific coast of British Columbia stands the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral, one of the world’s last forests. Wealthy tourists flock from all corners of the dust-choked globe to see the spectacle 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.

1908. Two passenger locomotives meet head-on. The only survivors are two young boys, 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.

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 the story of one family and their enduring connection to the place that brought them together.


Every generation experiences a catastrophe: history can be read as a series of apocalypses. Do you think the people affected by the Dust Bowl felt like the Plebs during the Fall of Rome? Will we all feel these same experiences as conflagrations continue to decimate entire regions and the seas rise up to drown our cities? How far will we go to protect life? Will we do the right thing?

Michael Christie braids these ideas and questions through a North American multi-generational family saga. The story arcs from a rail disaster in 1908 that orphaned two children, through the peaks and troughs of the twentieth century, to a near future in which one of the world’s last forests begins to die. Just as every generation inherits the disasters made by their forebears, every child in this family grapples with the legacy of their parents. One lives a quiet life in the trees, disturbed by the rescue of an abandoned child. Another makes his living cutting down those trees. A daughter vows to protect the trees her father hasn’t yet destroyed. A son works timber to escape his upbringing. A daughter tries to preserve the last trees in a world that is rapidly leaving the poor to desperation and death.

Christie manages to keep this story moving along like the locomotive that created it: a page-turner that keeps a pace that can only end in a crash. But like the rings of the tree that structure this book, new things are built upon the dead world of the old. Despite this novel’s stoic acceptance of calamity, it remains hopeful that through a rejection of profit, and love of all life, we will maintain our future, however diminished it may be.

Michael McLoughlin works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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